translated by David Stuttard
directed by Lucette Hindin
University of Canterbury Students' Association Drama Society
August 30 - September 8, 1996
Reviewed by Robin Bond
University of Canterbury, NZ
Although I disagreed to some extent with the blanket statement of the programme note that the play 'is a study of statecraft and tyranny (=kingship)', a description much better suited to Oedipus the King, which to be fair is mentioned in the self-same note, I found this production an extremely satisfying theatrical experience on many levels. To follow up my first quibble, however, it did not seem to me that the actor playing Kreon (Chris Girdler) was possessed of sufficient physical power or presence fully to communicate that theme to the audience, despite his sinister intellectual and emotional intensity. It is surely simpler to take the direction given by Sophocles' choice of title and concentrate on the powerless individual's stance against tyranny in support of the unwritten laws of the gods which Kreon flouts in his refusal to allow Polyneices proper burial. That this matter was of special importance to Sophocles at this time is demonstrated by the action also of the Ajax.
The set for the production, designed by Jocelyn Rattray, represented a desolate post holocaust wasteland. The magnitude of Polyneices' crime is, therefore, presented to us in visual terms, helping to explain, if not excuse, Kreon's action. The company of six actors entered the set severally and took up their positions which they held with great discipline until required by the action. It was a bold and successful directorial decision, one of many such, to utilise the same actors for the body of the chorus as for the participants in the action. Antigone and Ismene emerged from their locations within the set, for example, to play the named roles when required, identifying themselves by the donning of a simple piece of costume over their neutral stage black. During the stasima the choral words were spoken by a single performer (James Murray) while the company suited action to word and theme with a pleasing lack of overt literality. Murray's relative youth inhibited his performance in terms of dignity, however, as, at times, he risked becoming a somewhat comic character. In this he was not helped by a rather curious plaid cloak, reminiscent, as was his build, of the late Jon Pertwee's Dr Who. On the whole, however, Natalie Leggett's costuming was subtle and effective, although Kreon's hub-cap breastplate struck a jarring note.
It was a mark of the discipline and concentration of the young cast that the shifts from chorus body to actor did not disconcert the audience. Jane Robertson's Antigone was powerfully and suitably confused and convincing as she confronted Kreon and the threat of death, acting from nature and instinct to bury her brother, while the weakness of Ismene's more rational case was put across well by Louisa James. The physical control of these two actors was exemplary, but accordingly rather highlighted the jerky and marionette-like hand and arm movements of the young men, especially Scott Koorey's Haimon. This is a difficult part as in his one scene with Kreon he tries at first with great diffidence to dissuade his father from his set course of action. The natural agitation and conflicting loyalties of the young man can lead all too eagerly to a distracting physical agitation in performance. As Teiresias, this same actor was more impressive, being aided by the dimmer light, his elevated position and the immobility imposed by his blindness. The setting, lighting and performance of this scene were a credit to imaginative and effective direction. Henry Holderness injected a suitable amount of humour and pathos into his portrayal of the Guard, indicating by his very obsequiousness the dangers of crossing the king's will.
This was a very impressive directorial debut by Lucette Hindin. She had a clear conception of the play and all elements of the production contributed to the realisation of that concept in theatrical terms. Antigone is not my favourite among Sophocles' plays. Nevertheless, I was captured and moved by this production, soon forgetting, except for the purposes of review, the inexperience of the cast. The central moral dilemma proved as insoluble and as timeless as ever. This is one of the best student productions I have seen at Canterbury for many years in terms especially of its intelligence, its honesty and its theatrical exploration of the text.
(Robin Bond is a Senior Lecturer in Classics and Drama at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.)