In over fifty years of theatrical activity, Oxford Theatre Guild has garnered a reputation for being one of the strongest amateur companies in the country. They certainly have never lacked ambition – and in choosing to perform the Anouilh version of Sophocles’ tragic masterpiece, they are living up to that reputation.
Director Janet Bolam’s choice of translation (by Lewis Galantiere) is an interesting one. It treads the fine line between the artificial and naturalistic very well. It makes good use of relatively modern idioms whilst never forgetting the poetic roots of the text.
Less successful, perhaps, is her decision to pervade the production with the presence of surveillance cameras and recorded footage. This device is fast becoming a modern cliché - particularly following the recent Doran/Tennant Hamlet in Stratford and more recently on the BBC. The use of video is not overwhelming but often serves to punctuate rather than enhance the drama.
Some of her casting decisions were outstanding. Nick Quartley gives a magisterial performance in the key role of Chorus. All too often audiences can switch off during long narrative speeches; here we were completely swept up in his story-telling. He uses the language to his best advantage and makes sure that every word counted.
Joe Kenneway brings a much-needed humanity to the conflicted Creon. Always alert to the text, he brings his key duologue with Antigone to life with some strong characterisation and emotional honesty. Similarly effective performances come from Lisa Barnett (Nurse), Joshua Hall (Messenger) and Adam Potterton (First Guard).
A tragedy such as this rests on the shoulders of the central character. Antigone is a very complex individual and the audience must be able to engage with her throughout. Jenni Mackenzie captures the essence of a little girl lost very well and cuts a pleasing stage figure. However, she has a tendency to speak rather too quickly at times which leads to a number of lines failing to be projected as clearly as they might. Hopefully this is simply a matter of her getting used to a new venue and as the week progresses, her performance will grow to fill the space more effectively.
This is a sincere and genuine production of an interesting text. It shows that, at their best, amateur performers can rival their professional counterparts.