Oedipus and Antigone

Tue 21st – Sat 25th October 2014


Gaia Fay Lambert

at 08:35 on 22nd Oct 2014



When I walked into the ADC Theatre and sat down to watch Oedipus and Antigone, I was, at first, disappointed. An intricately built but plain white set provided the backdrop for this Greek classic, and it crossed my mind that perhaps they’d run out of time to paint it. The scene opened, and I immediately heard another audience member comment “Oh…it’s modern...” with disdain, a sentiment I at first echoed.

However, after the first fifteen minutes or so I was enthralled by the performance, and the physical theatre involved blew me away. Something I had puzzled over before seeing the play was how the Chorus could possibly be made accessible for a modern viewer. However, this was masterfully done by the cast, with the choreographed scenes being a personal highlight for me. A particularly mesmerising scene re-enacted Oedipus’ tragic origins in silhouette form, which had me absolutely entranced throughout, and the death scenes were portrayed to great effect, with the different height levels in the scenery being used extremely effectively.

Another highlight was the superb acting of Laura Waldren as Jocasta, who showed incredible character development, and who brought what I had always thought to be a very dull character to life – I found myself sitting up in my chair and getting excited every time she came on to the stage. However, the other actors were equally strong. Alasdair McNab, Tom Beavan and Rhianna Frost as Oedipus, Creon and Antigone respectively all had incredible stage presence, and though I thought that perhaps the idea of anger as a fatal flaw was over-emphasized, this worked well with those particular actors, and nicely showed the passing on of the trait through the family. Creon’s character development from the man who had no desire to rule into the deranged tyrant was a thing of wonder, with his pivotal point portrayed simply but powerfully at the end of Act 1. I also enjoyed the counterbalance between the dramatic tension present in all of Kay Denet’s scenes as Teiresias compared with the comic dispersion of tension provided by Ryan Monk’s shepherd.

The white backdrop which I had initially dismissed was one of the predominant features of Antigone, as I found my eyes being constantly drawn to the bloodstains left by Oedipus earlier on – a nice reminder of the effect of his ‘sins’ on his descendants.

Though initially I was unsure about this production, the play built momentum as it progressed, and by the end I was highly impressed. I’m also sure that the cathartic effect of the closing far exceeded that of the original Greek performance. With a strong cast all round, and a fresh take on a very old tale, I would strongly recommend this to anyone. Perhaps the most important thing about the performance was that it made Greek myth accessible to a modern audience and showed how, if adapted correctly, the classics can endure through the centuries.


Joseph Cooper

at 10:03 on 22nd Oct 2014



This is a tricky one: it's inconsistency is an issue, but also grants the play some of its glory too; simply put, 'Antigone' was not as good as 'Oedipus'. This is by no means the fault of the actors: they were utterly splendid throughout. Dent's Teiresias was incredibly convincing, capturing the mixture of defiance and despair, as well as giving a realistic impression of blindness upon the stage. MacNab is a truly terrific Theban king, as energised and reckless at his lowest point as he is at his highest peak. And the play does have many peaks; when Oedipus' blinding was announced to the audience, there was a noticeable stir of horror and discomfort; similarly, the opening of the Antigone half of the play was brilliantly evocative: one could taste the tyranny pouring off the ill-lighted, plainly dressed, yet sinister figure of Creon. Oedipus' final moments as king upon stage, blood staining his wounded eyes, is one of the finest moments of theatre I have seen.

But there were, to my eyes, many faults alongside these glorious moments. The lighting was rather inconsistent, the dimming upon Teiresias' words adding nothing to the play; but equally, the portraying of the murder of Laius, cast in silhouette, stripped all identity from the chorus, allowing them to play their parts of the young Oedipus and his parents with a real sense of power. The stage was wonderfully diverse for the Oedipus half, the actors seeming to be surrounded, yet struggling separate from, the chorus spread about them. While this led to a feast for the eyes, however, words were often lost through bad diction, emotional incoherence (which is forgiveable) and the sound of heavy feet on the imposing edifice of the set. The choreography was captivating in places – that silhouette sequence again – but in others, seemed to take up too much of the actor's focus for them to really act convincingly, such as the dance between Oedipus and Jocasta. I also missed some version of a favourite signature line: the timeless 'I am misery!'. These aside, the Oedipus half of the play was incredibly good, with energy sustained throughout, and a very tangible and deeply moving expression of pathos at its close.

Antigone was, after this, something of a disappointment in my eyes. Not because of the quality of the acting, but because Sophocles was chucked into the Aegean, and the script and directing did some demeaning things to his literature. Jocasta's prologue was dull and unnecessary, Ismene and Antigone being forced to re-tell the events afterwards anyway. I missed the chorus: although I acknowledge that the theme of loneliness was expanded in the play, and this was aided by a sparse stage, a ghost uttering platitudes about love, no matter how much acting treacle you can spread over the words, will always lack power: the chorus' lines are characterless in Sophocles, dealing with commonalities: when given to the voice of an actual character, it becomes jarring and rather tedious. The ghost story was not good.

My main problem with Antigone, however, is a large and probably contentious one. Namely, its politicisation. Put briefly, Antigone is not always right, is not a selfless martyr (at least, not so blatantly): 'the Antigone' has a conflict at its root, between political and human loyalty (which for Sophocles, was a unattainable dream), and divine callousness and cruelty (which is disastrous, but inevitable). Antigone should not be portrayed as morally correct: she represents inevitability and divinity, not some political radical against the Fascist Creon. There were, for my taste, too many political terms, rather than religious or prophetic, phrases like 'human rights', 'civil liberties', 'one judge, one jury' and so forth: Sophocles' Antigone is not an antifascist play: this was, and came off the worse for it. The most interesting and controversial speech by Antigone – the one in which she claims it was only love for a brother which led her to her deed – was replaced by a disappointing plea for political understanding and identity. While it was interesting, and fitting, to have something about the refugee in Antigone and Ismene – the constant coats and scalves – the uncertain division of right/wrong in Antigone was lost entirely, leaving it as a less-dramatic, slightly-inverted retelling of Oedipus.

While this issue was a large one for me, the impact and power of the play as a whole was certainly not lost: it has a power to horrify, to inspire that all-important tragic pity, and leaves you with an impression of utter collapse. As I said earlier, the acting was virtually flawless, even managing to add a sprinkle of comedy in Monk's soldier/shepherd. For those less concerned about the political bastardisation of a Greek classic (as this is a slightly sore point for me), it will be a fantastic performance, utterly engaging, compelling and moving. For me, it was merely excellent. Bring on Oedipus at Colonus!


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