Saturday, 30 June 2012
Antigone at The Olivier
Polly Findlay’s production of Antigone at The Olivier makes the play accessible to modern audiences, thanks in no small measure to the designer Soutra Gilmour. She has created a concrete bunker situated in an unspecified country which could be anywhere from an Eastern bloc state to somewhere in Westminster. This version by Don Taylor swaps the Greek chorus for military officials and civil servants and at the beginning of the play they all gather around a screen to watch an attack on the city.
King Creon, with a strong northern accent by the excellent Christopher Eccleston, thinks on his feet. As head of state he embodies all the certainty, arrogance and blinkered view of a politician who is “not for turning” and decides that Antigone’s brother, Poyneices, as a traitor must not be buried. Instead his corpse will be left to rot outside the city walls. Meanwhile the other brother, Eteocles, who died defending Thebes is to be given a hero’s burial. His soon to be daughter-in-law, Antigone, is outraged and makes up her mind to defy Creon by obeying the rules laid down by religion and burying Polyneices.
Jodie Whittaker’s Antigone is a determined young woman and totally believable. When she is caught trying to bury her brother by a soldier and is dragged in front of Creon, her doggedness never waivers even when she learns of her fate to be buried alive. Nothing will deter Creon and his authority is not to be questioned, despite the pleas to spare her from his beloved son, Haemon. He has made his decision and his decision will stand even if it upsets public opinion. Although we see this as a fatal flaw, in this production Creon doesn’t come across as evil, just a man wrestling with the burden of power. When he realises his stupidity after the blind prophet Teiresias dares to label him a tyrant and he then learns that fate has taken its chilling course, we feel his pain. The powerful autocrat is human after all.
The rest of the cast support the production unwaveringly, particularly Luke Norris as the truculent whistle blowing soldier, whilst the Music & Sound Designer, Dan Jones, helps to transport us into a powerful world run by a powerful man but which ultimately falls apart.