The Guild’s latest production is Jean Marie Lucien Pierre Anouilh’s (1910-1987) 1942 reworking of Antigone, the original version having been written around 442BC by Sophocles (495-405BC), based in turn on the 13th Century BC Greek myth. Directed by the company’s Artistic Director, Edwin Kemp Atrill, this translation is by Lewis Galantière. Kemp Atrill has assembled a good cast and created a clear and approachable production, if not always hitting the dramatic heights that might have been expected from such a clash of wills.
Anouilh begins his play by sending in the Chorus, which he has reduced from a group of Theban Elders to just one person, to deliver a short history lesson, telling the audience what happened leading up to the beginning of the play. This prologue is, effectively, the story contained within Seven Against Thebes, written by Aeschylus. Briefly, with the death of Oedipus his two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices were to each take turns ruling, changing places every year. When the time came, however, there was no amicable changeover. Eteocles refused to stand down and Polyneices raised an army against him, with the assistance of six foreign princes, making him the aggressor and a traitor. The brothers fought over the crown, eventually slaying one another. Their uncle, Creon, the brother of Jocasta, became the new ruler and gave Eteocles a funeral worthy of his position, condemning the body of Polyneices to be left to rot, as an example to the people. Oedipus and his mother/wife, Jocasta, also had two daughters through there incestuous relationship, Ismene and Antigone, the latter now being betrothed to Creon’s son, Haemon. The others in this tale are Eurydice, Creon’s wife, and the two sisters’ Nurse. A couple of guards and a messenger also make brief appearances.
After the prologue, Antigone takes Ismene aside and tells her that she intends to bury Polyneices’s remains, in defiance of the order of their uncle, Creon. This act is the cause of the conflict between Antigone and Creon that is the basis of the play. Ismene refuses to assist, for fear of the death penalty that Creon has decreed, so Antigone goes alone, and is caught in the act and imprisoned, pending her execution.
Creon tries hard to save her from herself, begging her to take his advice, but she insists on fighting him and gives him no choice but to reluctantly carry out his punishment. That where this version differs from that of Sophocles. In that version Antigone argues that the will of the Gods, that everybody be given a proper funeral, overrides the decree of Creon that Polyneices be left to rot. He refuses to listen, insisting on asserting his authority, primarily to reinforce his tentative position as King, which can be argued as illegal as he was not in line for the throne but took it on the dubious link through his relationship to Jocasta. It is that clash that we still see today of religious law and secular law saying different things and people on either side insisting that theirs takes precedence.
Here, Creon is a much more sympathetic character, backed into a corner with no other options than to carry out his predetermined punishment. Antigone can be seen, though, as simply wilful and cantankerous, particularly as she does not really seem to be that committed to her cause.
Creon eventually has her walled up alive, but she hangs herself and, seeing her body, Haemon commits suicide. Accusing Creon, Eurydice also takes her own life. In the lost play by Euripedes, incidentally, Dionysis intervened to give a happy ending in which Antigone and Haemon were married. Greek myths were not inflexible, with both endings having currency.
Nicole Rutty is the Chorus, presenting the prologue and epilogue, commenting on the story, and providing the voice of Eurydice, who sits knitting, silently, until her final condemnation of Creon. Her diction is crisp and clear but, occasionally, a little more projection would help, and that also applies to a few others, as lines are occasionally lost when performers have their backs to sections of the audience, or when there are sound effects being employed.
Michael Baldwin is sensational as Creon, embracing all of the inner conflict that comes when he realises the implications of his pronouncement of the death penalty for anybody attempting to give a funeral to Polyneices. Faced with reality that he has placed that penalty on his own niece, Baldwin shows Creon’s anguish at the unexpected turn of events, mixing it with anger at Antigone’s refusal to accept his help. Baldwin gives us all of Creon’s authority in his voice, posture and body language, but also lets us see, almost as though unintentionally, the man’s humanity and insecurity as well.
Sara Lange’s Antigone is headstrong, defiant, even perverse. Her best scenes are those with Creon, drawing on Baldwin’s characterisation and reacting to the drive of his performance, which gives her plenty to work with in her own role. At other times her performance did seem to be rather much on one level, and acting technique sometimes showed through the character. This was true of others, as well, and the whole production never really broke free and became the powerful drama that it should have been.
Karen Burns, as Ismene, presents us with the antithesis of Antigone in a very finely crafted performance. Her Ismene is quiet, obedient, lawful, and possesses all of the charm and beauty that the script ascribes to her. Burns also, however, lets us glimpse a little of the hidden strength within Ismene, rushing to her sister’s side when she is found out and trying to claim half of the blame. We see that strength gradually growing as Ismene resolves to pick up from where Antigone was forced to stop, and go ahead with honouring Polyneices’s remains, in defiance of Creon’s orders. Burns makes it clear, through this change in her character, that the influence of the martyr is spreading already.
Tom Cornwall’s Haemon lacks sufficient presence. This is a small role and he seems unsure of what to do with it. Hopefully his character will have grown with a few more performances.
Lesley Reed plays both the Nurse, and the Messenger, her theatrical experience showing in her solid characterisation. Her devotion to the daughters and her desire to protect them is all there in her interpretation of the role. Tony Sampson and Adrian Skewes are the two guards, reduced from the three actually called for in the script, and have sufficient burliness for the roles, as well as giving us a view of two men living little lives, everything revolving around their jobs and their interminable card games. Rosemary Jackson is Eurydice, sitting knitting, looking on blankly, awaiting, as the script tells us, her death, the Chorus speaking for her until she finally confronts Creon, before taking her own life and cursing him.
Lillian Chester’s set is minimalist, dominated by a huge central column, and Stephen Dean’s unusual lighting plot, highlighting areas on the borders of which the actors work, helps to create the different locations. There are times, though, when actors tend to be lit rather a little too dimly and it is hard to see facial expressions. Rory Chenoweth’s sound also fits in neatly with the rest of the production, adding another dimension.
This a worthy effort and should probably have developed by now, with more dramatic content exhibited. Perhaps a slightly longer rehearsal period might have been in order for such a complex work in order to spend more time on building one or two of the characters more fully. That aside, the production is worth seeing as this is not a play that is produced that often.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.
Venue: Little Theatre, Cloisters, University of Adelaide, North Terrace, Adelaide
Season: 7:30pm Tues to Sat to 26th May 2012
Duration: 2hrs 30mins (incl. interval)
Tickets: $23 to $28
Bookings: Trybooking here or BASS 131 246 or here