AS THE ancient, bi-gender prophet Tiresias surveys his/her birds of augury, he discovers that all is not well in Thebes.
No wonder. Creon, King of Thebes inherited the city-state from the sons/brothers of Oedipus, who left behind Eteocles and Polyneices to rule alternatively, but rebellion has reared its head which see the two brothers dead.
A ‘law and order’ man, Creon has honoured Eteocles but refused to bury the body of the rebel Polyneices.
This earliest but chronologically last of Sophocles’ three Theban play is the perfect choice for Canberra Youth Theatre, who, in beautifully articulate, crystal-clear interpretation, bring the audience up to speed with this dismal tale as news arrives of how the passionate Antigone has honoured her brother with a ritual burial, thus flouting Creon’s edict.
In a splendid series of encounters, Kitty Malam as Antigone pits her wits against the intellectual arrogance of Creon (Richard Cotta) and the pragmatic inclinations of her sister Ismene (Stefanie Lekkas). White-hot with rage, these scene of rapid-fire stichomythia show us stubborn argument again argument – who must we obey, the law or the gods? Statesmanship demands that rebels be put down, but the gods demand compassion.
The stated theme of this production is that we must think bigger “in order to keep humanity moving forward”. Yet it is not the dialectical argument that holds sway in this presentation, but the extreme emotions of pity, anger and joy.
Fear was the dominant emotion in the first-rate ‘messenger’ speech by Thomas Mifsud as the sentry who brings the news to Creon of Antigone’s disobedience.
Anger, mostly righteous, was the chief emotion for Creon, Antigone and Creon’s doomed son Haemon (Alexander Castello).
Joy came in the form of Sophocles’ glorious ode to the sun, introduced by Mia Tuco, who quietly and gently dominated in the choral segments.
The grating, sometimes grinding sound design underscoring all the main confrontations gave an unnerving quality to the production, matched by the paint (blood?) soiled butchers’ aprons for the cast and the eye makeup that spoke of Greek masks. Delicate but menacing bird sculptures hovered above Kate Llewellyn’s set.
The united ensemble of seven (“Seven against Thebes” is the name of another play about this story) has been tightly drilled and choreographed over a long period, with input from the whole company. When not performing their own scenes, characters fade into the chorus seamlessly.
In an approach partially influenced by Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki, the actors stamp, fling themselves on the floor and run, exhausting themselves in preparation for scenes of conflict. The payoff is that when they need to draw attention, they can be quiet, refined and deliberate.
In this interpretation, the intentional omission of the final speeches, the uncompromising Creon is not the centre of the tragedy. But Cotta is powerful and rational, a good match for the gaunt, intense performance of Malam as Antigone and the forceful rendition of Tiresias by Menon.
The final scene was enigmatic, involving a mysterious ritual that seemingly puts the characters at rest. The play concludes with an enormous thunderclap, presumably from Zeus, above.
Reviewed by Helen Musa, City News