An additional slip in the programme for this production of Antigone makes it clear that playwright Inua Ellams had begun writing the play long before 2022. “One might be drawn to think I wrote the play as a response to our times, but I am not so fast a writer to do so, and I don’t believe good art can be created instantly.” Perhaps it is partly coincidental, then, that it feels incredibly relevant, though some of the themes in the play have a degree of universality about them – grappling as it does with the rule of law, pushback in the form of civil disobedience and more subtle forms of protest, family loyalty, and how power really can get to someone’s head all too easily.
Creon (Tony Jayawardena), rules in a manner that a British Prime Minister wouldn’t, in a parliamentary democracy, actually be able to do, and one would have thought other MPs would have made the necessary moves to pass a vote of no confidence before the events of the final scenes of the play, and its implications, take place. This is, therefore, a Britain that is somewhat different from the one in which we live, and yet so many other aspects of the production are recognisable and relatable.
I found the synopsis in the show’s programme helpful, and indeed I’m not sure I would have been able to follow proceedings fully without it. There’s a bold exploration of what it is to be Muslims in a society that is largely suspicious of Muslims. Creon uses divisive and inflammatory language for political advantage (“Their presence infects many parts of our country”, he asserts), on the advice of Aleksy (Sandy Grierson), whose habitual doubling down and abrasive manner invariably invites comparisons with a certain former chief adviser to a former Prime Minister.
It’s not all politics (though if politics isn’t your cup of tea when going to the theatre, I would, frankly, suggest seeing something else) – a late intervention from Tiresius (Eli London) is as much about the far-reaching potential uses of technology in the digital world as it is about how data can be manipulated for good or for ill. In larger ensemble scenes, meanwhile, the choreography (Carrie-Anne Ingrouille) is vibrant and energetic, capturing the youthful enthusiasm of Antigone’s (Zainab Hasan) friends and supporters, whether they are passionately celebratory or passionately fuming.
This is a relatively unusual offering for the Open Air Theatre, given their other productions this year were the musicals Legally Blonde and 101 Dalmatians, although not unprecedented – an adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird in their 2013 season also asked questions about whether the law really does what its strongest proponents claim it does. Eurydice (Pandora Colin), Creon’s stoic wife, and Haemon (Oliver Johnstone), Creon’s stepson, try to appeal to his humanity, voicing their objections to his strategies and schemes. Their efforts are in vain. Or are they?
An engaging play, I felt invested in the story from start to finish. Okay, there are bits evidently put in to maximise dramatic effect (alas, it would be giving too much away to give examples), occasionally at the expense of going for the most feasible or plausible courses of actions, but even this is difficult to put down as a negative aspect, particularly as the play and this production of it does what they are designed to do, holding the audience’s attention throughout. Being an outdoor show, as day turns to dusk turns to night, the darkness is used effectively in the second half, with parallels between it and the gloom and tragedy. There are no weak links to report in a committed and dynamic cast, and this far-reaching and intriguing production has a lot going for it.
Review by Chris Omaweng
A torn family. A hostile state. One heroic brother. One misguided son. One conflicted sister, and the second is on the run.
The creative team includes: Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante MBE (composer), Shanaé Chisholm (casting assistant), Barbara Houseman (voice & text and season associate director), Carrie-Anne Ingrouille (choreographer), Polly Jerrold (casting director), Jack Knowles (lighting designer), Emma Laxton (sound designer), Ingrid Mackinnon (season associate: intimacy support), Khadija Raza (costume designer), Leslie Travers (set designer), Jo Tyabji (co-director), Max Webster (director) and Kate Waters (Fight Director).
Zainab Hasan plays the role of Antigone, and Tony Jayawardena plays Antigone’s uncle, Creon.
Also in the cast are: Pandora Colin (Eurydice), Rhianna Dorris (Lyra), Sandy Grierson (Aleksy), Nadeem Islam (Polyneices), Abe Jarman (Eteocles), Oliver Johnstone (Haemon), Munir Khairdin (Nikomedes), Susan Lawson-Reynolds (Commissioner), Eli London (Tiresius), Shazia Nicholls (Ismene), Mervin Noronha (Chorus), Razak Osman (Athan), Joseph Prouse (Officer), Nadia Sohawon (Kyria), Riley Woodford (Strom) and Lydia Bakelmun (walking understudy).
www.openairtheatre.com | Until 24 September 2022