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I AM NOT ANTIGONE – RADA at the Gielgud Theatre

I Am Not AntigoneIt’s one way of dealing with the perennial problem of electronic devices going off during theatre performances: have an actor bark at an audience to retweet something which they have just stopped the show to put online. I refused. The gentleman next to me went as far as turning on his phone in a theatre. Perhaps I’m too much of a traditionalist – even so, there’s much to be admired in the embracing of modern technology in I Am Not Antigone.

The play’s title was totally meaningless to me as I went into the show, and by the end it still held no substance. It might as well have been called I Am Not Nigel Farage, or any other person deemed to be a departure from the mainstream. The audience is supplied with neither programme nor cast list, so I’m not in a position to say who the actors are. Suffice to say that Antigone, never assumes a role different to her own in this production, so if Antigone is not Antigone, who is she then?

This reimagining of an ancient Greek tragedy to the present day produces mixed results. While more relatable than the original, the change of setting means the show is not as hard-hitting as it would have been. How can the death penalty be imposed in a twenty-first century Greece? The answer is rather obvious, and this show is therefore only the tragedy of Antigone in metaphor, which, strictly speaking, is not a tragedy at all.

I am a great believer in audiences being able to appreciate productions without having prior knowledge of the source material. The ‘problem’ with a traditional rendering of Antigone is that it delves straight into the aftermath of a war without context. This production does brilliantly in a well-judged scene that retains a Chorus to explain what led things to be as dramatic and vexed as they are. An unnecessary and unfunny quip about it “all being Greek to me” spoilt the rapport that had only just been established, however, and some other subsequent punchlines throughout the show fell equally flat.

With social media notifications appearing on the bottom of a large on-stage screen, giving further information as to what is going on, some interesting (ahem) staging choices meant some action was going on directly in front of the said screen, obscuring the updates. It was more bemusing than irritating for me.

The overarching theme in the play was surprisingly unsubtle. Talk about cracking a peanut open with a sledgehammer. A preachy Chorus denounces the audience of thinking that their use of social media can change the world, rapidly citing numerous examples including the Arab Spring and a video about Joseph Kony, the leader of the ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’ terrorist group. I fundamentally disagree with the Chorus’ view here and came away unconvinced by their line of argument. I think theatre audiences are more than intelligent enough to know that liking something or sharing a post online is not tantamount to changing the world, and being aware of something is not the same as proactively doing something about it. The accusatory tone of the Chorus did not appeal to me in the slightest.

Still, the play is well acted, even if the ending is somewhat anticlimactic. Some good use of projections helps to introduce certain scenes succinctly, negating the need for too much descriptive dialogue. And maybe, just maybe, the play is before its time, a pioneering production in which the use of multimedia and technology is harnessed to the full. This could be, for better or for worse, a sign of things to come, at least as far as contemporary plays go. This is a good effort at retelling an ancient story, re-set in modern times, that needs to be a tad more focused and decisive about what themes to properly engage in to be truly absorbing.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

This retelling of a 2,500-year-old story featuring three performers, an iPhone, a MacBook and Twitter. It’s a playful tragedy about a generation of revolutionaries who prefer to rebel via social media than actually do something. In this era where so many of us are guilty of expressing political opinions with the click of a mouse and little more, it’s a relevant and intriguing look at the world today.

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