Review Round-up: A chorus of approval for Findlay's AntigoneDate: 1 June 2012
Polly Findlay’s production of Antigone opened at the National’s Olivier Theatre on 30 May. Sophocles’ Greek tragedy, translated here by Don Taylor, pits the brutal authority of tyrant Creon (Christopher Eccleston) against the impassioned actions of his neice, Antigone (Jodie Whittaker). It runs until 21 July.
“Early in Polly Findlay’s superb new staging of Sophocles’ Antigone in the Olivier Theatre, the chorus, or office staff, of the new head of state, Creon, gather round a television to see what’s happening outside. Instantly we think of that photograph of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other White House officials glued to the small screen video link during the final raid on Osama bin Laden’s hide-out. It’s just one way of registering the immediacy of the play, but there is no clumsy emphasis on modern application … This Antigone shows as clearly as any I’ve seen that catastrophe is most unimaginable to those who perpetrate it, unimaginable until the dead lie bundled up in rows like children in Syria.”
“Twenty-nine-year-old director Polly Findlay makes her Olivier debut with impressive assurance, sweeping a 2,500 year old tragedy (Sophocles's Antigone) and a 48-year-old screen star (Christopher Eccleston) into her bold modernisation of an ancient parable of state arrogance … The keynote is Eccleston's channelling of Tony Blair. It's not an impersonation, but his precise, repetitive diction, mannered body language, cool unflappability and, above all, unshakeable belief in the rightness of his deeply unpopular cause – in this case executing his niece, Antigone, for defying the law by burying her traitorous brother Polynices – unerringly invokes one man's slippery spirit. It is a superb portrait and critique of the scariest sort of politician: one actually driven by ideology … The production teeters after Teiresias's late introduction, flailing to regain context. But it pulls it back for the devastating final scene, in which, after a triple tragedy, Creon's spirit is finally broken - not in spite of his unshakeable faith, but because of it.”
“The one problem with putting the play into modern dress is that it brings with it too many associations. When Creon invokes "the power of the state" we tend to shudder, whereas the play's original spectators would probably have sympathised with his argument that loyalty to city or country supersedes that to family or friends. But Findlay avoids turning the piece into a moral melodrama in which a virtuous Antigone confronts a wicked tyrant … Eccleston's Creon is not evil but fatally in thrall, like many modern politicians, to the idea that authority is somehow inviolable. Jodie Whittaker's Antigone is no bright-eyed martyr – simply a dogged, determined young woman who believes nothing is more important than the debt we owe to family and the dead. It is a wonderfully single-minded performance, and there is strong support all round … But what this production, aided by Soutra Gilmour's set and Dan Jones's sound design, does superbly is usher us into a world of self-regarding power that falls apart through its neglect of instinctive human feeling.”
Christopher Eccleston combines a rangy physical presence with a temple-twitching intensity. One of his trademarks is an exaggerated precision in speech, his mouth almost doubling its movements as he delivers the words. How well this suits Creon as he tussles with his intransigence and confronts the fate imposed on him by merciless gods … Jodie Whittaker’s Antigone did not strike me an immediately warm figure. She seems pinched, pulled in, her vocal tone mean. This increases the objectivity of the play but it perhaps robs us of a dollop of pathos … But on the whole this is an admirably direct rendition of a topical dilemma: the balance, in politics and elsewhere, between decisiveness and moderation.”
“This 21st-century interpretation burns particularly hard into our age. Costume and scene remind us of what we know too well in the age of Saddam, Gaddafi and Assad, especially after this week’s appalling news from Syria. It’s not about togas and robes: superstitious, stubborn, paranoid tyrants whose word is death have suits and ties and CCTV and bustling modern offices, and look just like our own leaders … Eccleston’s Creon is the most curious, ultimately gripping performance. At first a chunky crop-haired politico, he seems appropriately wooden and bereft of feeling. But as doubt of his own rightness assails him he warms into vulnerability and madness. In the ghastly triple denouement his “I am nothing! I want nothing! My last, simplest prayer!” rings chill round the great auditorium.”