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
It’s just one way of
registering the immediacy of the play, but there is no clumsy emphasis on modern
application, nor is there any messing about with the late Don Taylor’s fine and
muscular translation (which dates from a BBC television production of
Creon, played with
understated, chilling authority and a Lancastrian accent by Christopher
Eccleston, is keen to maintain control after a period of disastrous civil
His niece, Antigone, wants
to bury her dead brother, the rebel Polynices, but Creon withholds permission.
The other son of Oedipus, Eteocles, has been buried with full military honours.
Antigone faces a death sentence in defying Creon’s
The status of the outlaw is
likened to that of women generally. In the opening exchanges between Jodie
Whittaker’s unblemished and impassioned Antigone and her sister Ismene
(Annabel Scholey), it is clear that women are not only barred from political
power, but from any discussion in their own future.
Ecclestone’s Creon becomes
increasingly misogynist as the tricky situation develops tragically beyond his
second disastrous edict: that no son of his – the fresh-faced Luke
Newberry's Haemon – can marry a criminal. The full horror of the outcome is conveyed
first in the witness of Jamie Ballard’s blind prophet Teiresias and then in a
magnificent Messenger’s speech given full value by Kobna
Soutra Gilmour’s design
for the first production in the tenth anniversary Travelex Tickets season
provides grim, grey city walls that open to reveal a bustling seat of power in
Creon’s office, where suited courtiers disappear behind glass panels and hover
at desks full of papers and lamps, but not computers: this world is ever so
slightly Mad Men, but without any 1950s glamour.
This chorus of
policy-makers is drawn with increasing exasperation into the consequences, and
each of them is neatly characterised, with sharp contributions from Paul
Bentall, Martin Chamberlain and young blade Alfred Enoch (Dean Thomas in
the Harry Potter movies).
“The key to human happiness
is to nurture wisdom in your heart”, but of course this advice is always too
late. 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. Eccleston’s Creon leaves
his own city walls with a smear of blood, scraping his hand along the concrete
like a scythe.