The bare arches space of the Southwark Playhouse has been left with little upholstery for this modern-dress production of Antigone. Most familiar amongst contemporary symbols are the four large 'concrete' slabs which form the walls either side of a central opening - the concrete units used in the construction of the Israeli perimeter wall (right).
Amazingly, I had a struggle to link up what was being done and said on stage with this contemporary re-framing. Presumably the drama - in which the king Kreon mismanages the balancing of populist religious rites with civil strong-arming - is supposed to mirror some sort of Palestinian internal division. The outcome, the inevitable mass deaths, speaks of the failure of intransigent pride and the pathos of failing to embrace the offer of concession and consensus. This is all applicable, broadly, but I only made the connections myself outside the theatre space.
Inside Timberlake Wertenbaker's translation is delivered with technical rigour but there's not that much for the actors to bite into. I really enjoyed the overboiling argument between Jamie Glover's Kreon and his son Haimon (Kane Sharpe), musically escalated and violent. Inevitably, the appearance of Edward Petherbridge as the seer Tiresias brought all the portence that is needed to swing the bias of the drama, although I felt for all Petherbridge spoke with mesmerising finesse, his theatrics were overcooked. Eleanor Wyld plays Antigone with undeniable force of character. I didn't quite believe her vulnerability in the same way that I bought into Deborah Grant's Euridyke or even Daisy Ashford's Ismene.
Strong impressions begin to evaporate at this point. I couldn't get on with the uninspired chorus arrangement of unison line delivery nor the soulless, populist-style singing. The pre-recorded music was gilding the lily of trying to perform music live on and off set. Finally, the greatest disappointment was in the lack of conviction. Earlier sequences involving a domestic media crew are a one-off, a good idea made to look half-hearted . Small moments of choreography (chorus members removing themselves from the living tomb with a twirl) are remarkable not for their charm but for their incongruity. The final tableau is simply not well-directed at the ensemble level.
The lighting and costume design is fine and, as I've suggested the speaking of the text is crisp and coherent. Elsewhere though this isn't the most focused of productions.