Antigone at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Politics, religion, family: as only great literature can do, Ancient Greek tragedy Antigone speaks across centuries of contemporary ideas. An extraordinary wordsmith, Inua Ellams re-contextualises and breathes a modern setting into the play for a production that questions and confronts prejudicial issues in a euphonic and impactful script.
Creon (Tony Jayawardena) is campaigning to become the first Asian prime minister, when there’s a supposedly terrorist attack in which his two nephews, Polyneices (Nadeem Islam) and Eteocles (Abe Jarman), are killed, each by the hand of the other (the first having disappeared four years earlier because of an argument with the family over his friends, and the second a police officer). The uncle uses the mounting fear in the country to win the electorate’s favour, labelling one of the nephews a terrorist and elevating the other as a hero. As an exemplary punishment against terrorists, Polyneices will be left without burial which, for Islam, means condemning his soul to wander hopelessly for eternity. His sister, and niece of Creon, Antigone (Zainab Hasan), refuses to accept this; she protests and confronts the men in power, burying her brother at the risk of being charged with treason.
When state laws go against human and religious laws, when is a person propelled to transgress? Which rules should citizens respect first, above the others? Antigone is an incredible play with, at its core, debated controversies for the modern time: should one follow the family instinct, human charity, religious teachings, or a subjective rule of law? People are prone to mistakes, whims and feelings, such as fear, jealousy and greed. And that’s before looking at the feminist aspect of the story, with female characters defying the male-dominated higher ranks. In addition, this production is given a racist angle, as matters turn to discrimination and attaching prejudices to a specific ethnic and religious group. Ellams’s words are punchy, with the right pauses in the rhythm to let the meaning soak in, while flowing mellifluously without lecturing.
The music comes in and out in key dramatic moments. Given the strength of the dialogue, often, the volume seems to superimpose in a forced, unnecessary way. The stage is free of props and fixed settings, occupied only by moveable blocks, which allows plenty of space for the cast to move. And, indeed, the performers’ lines are often accompanied with fluid choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille that removes any possible stiffness, linking sequences in choral tides.
Zainab Hasan and Tony Jayawardena, the show’s antagonists, embody a clashing energy that sets them apart from the rest of the cast. The other performers brilliantly support the main conflict, bringing forward their battles, from Eurydice (Pandora Colin) assembling the female leaders to the unscrupulous tactics of Alesky (Sandy Grierson).
Words and movements are the driving force of this production of Antigone, making it an enrapturing tale for today’s world.
Photo: Helen Murray
Antigone is at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre from 3rd September until 24th September 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.