Antigone has opened at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London.
Written by Inua Ellams (Barber Shop Chronicles, Three Sisters), this contemporary retelling of Sophocles’s epic story has been commissioned by the theatre in its 90th anniversary year.
The cast includes Zainab Hasan Blank, Shakespeare Trilogy, Henry IV (Donmar Warehouse) as Antigone, and Tony Jayawardena The Father and the Assassin, England People Very Nice) as Antigone’s uncle, Creon.
The creative team includes direction by Max Webster and co-direction by Jo Tyabji.
Antigone is at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 24 September 2022.
"A poetic tragedy about modern British Muslim life"
"Inua Ellams updates the Sophoclean drama into a beguiling piece about faith and prejudice, and casts a suspicious eye at politicians who betray their own communities"
"What we do not dwell on is character. The early scenes are too short and functional. The plot is cranked out at quite a rate in stops and starts, and characters spell out all their motivations. And there is not always enough dramatic intensity in the spoken scenes: the relationship between Haemon (Oliver Johnstone) and Antigone is anaemic, and Eurydice (Pandora Colin), who is Creon’s wife and political adviser, is undercharged in her maternal role."
"The throb and thrill of the staging is beguiling, along with the clean visual magnificence of Leslie Travers’s set design, which literally throws its opening set off the stage and uses emptiness to maximum effect with fire, smoke and spotlighting. The emotional voltage of the final tragedy is not delivered but this is exciting and extremely watchable theatre nonetheless."
"A nuance-free attempt to match Sophocles with politics"
"Inua Ellams’s attempt to marry Sophocles with 21st-century British politics paints a jarringly unconvincing portrait of an opportunistic Asian politician using anti-immigrant sentiment to climb the greasy pole to 10 Downing Street."
"An update as ambitious as this would have a chance of working if it possessed some measure of plausibility: unlike figures from mythology, modern characters need a hinterland. Sadly, there’s no depth or nuance."
"A valuable message blunted by heavy-handedness"
"This adaptation reflects our current political climate more than any other production on in London"
"Hasan is a compelling central presence, conveying Antigone’s complex relationship with her own faith, with her husband Haemon (Oliver Johnstone), who is also inconveniently Creon’s step-son, and her determination to do right by her brother, no matter the cost."
"There is something refreshing about seeing these issues - the human consequence of inhumane policies - tackled on stage in such a direct way as well as seeing Muslim prayer and ritual presented with reverence and care, but at the same time there’s a lack of subtlety to Ellams’ approach which ultimately undermines the play’s power."
"Pours a provocative gallon of petrol on the play’s eternal flame"
"Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is mounting the first Greek tragedy in its history – the timing is disconcerting, but the staging's excellent"
"The new version at Regent’s Park by Inua Ellams pours a provocative gallon of petrol on its eternal flame."
" Overall, it’s sophisticated and stylishly staged (Max Webster and Jo Tyabji direct); the al-fresco amphitheatre setting adding a sense of connection with the original, despite the modernity of the approach. Negatives? Well, though there’s a visually incandescent climax, it’s not (yet) fully moving..."
"Inua Ellams gives Sophocles‘s ancient tragedy a bracingly contemporary spin"
"There are bolts of brilliance in Inua Ellams' twenty-first-century rewrite of Sophocles’s ‘Antigone’. He makes a play written two-and-a half-millennia ago speak more directly to the present day than pretty much anything else I've seen this year"
"... it's frustrating that among these successes, the play slightly loses sight of the person it all centres on."
"This is theatre that sits in direct conversation with its times, and although its characters sometimes feel like outlets for intensive research or strongly-felt convictions, it's exhilarating to watch. Antigone's tragedy probably won't make you cry, but it might well make you furious."
"Uneven urban reworking of the classical tragedy is energised by eloquent movement and vivid poetry"
"The writing features flashes of typically glorious poetry – musical, vivid, zig-zagging its way straight to the heart like lightning – but also chunks of faintly toe-curling dialogue, cluttered with unwieldy polemic."
"Hasan is a charismatic Antigone, her voice ragged with emotion, her face ablaze. Jayawardena convincingly suggests a ruler toughened by struggle – his ruthless pragmatism the end result of enduring too many moral compromises in order to survive and thrive among Islamophobia, racism and white privilege. But the contemporary relevance is so vigorously and insistently overstated that we lose sight of the story, and the play never achieves the raw, elemental power that tragedy demands."
" Love fights the law"
"The script bristles with topical references and running through it is a plea for nuance and understanding in a world of loud, clashing opinions."
"Less good, however, is characterisation: individuals tend to tell you rather than show you their dilemmas; relationships between them lack depth and subtlety."