Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Antigone, Southwark Playhouse

Review: Antigone, Southwark Playhouse

Published in Time Out, 31.05.2011

In theory, Tom Littler’s decision to set Antigone in a generic Middle Eastern country is brilliant. It’s a contemporary setting that meets the challenges of antiquity: its holy crimes and barbaric punishments, its burial rituals and sexual inequality. Against the Arab Spring, its portrayal of a tyrant stamping out dissent at all costs resonates strongly.

However, the setting makes more sense of Sophocles’s play than vice versa. First, because location never becomes more than an idea. We get Arabic trimmings – hijabs, incense and wailing muezzin – but no one actually behaves accordingly. Vowels are lum; feet shoulder-width apart. It’s more Middleton than Middle Eastern.

Second, it’s painfully polite, putting cadence before cruelty like an old-school RSC production. Jamie Glover’s Kreon speaks with a lion’s purr, smooth and sonorous, but never actually threatens. His soldiers manhandle their prisoners as if on a tentative first date. Littler soothes where he ought to assault.

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s complex text is handled with admirable clarity, but this is the catharsis of reflexology, not of pity and fear. As Kreon himself says, “I hate it when those caught in the act of evil want to turn it into something beautiful.”

Photograph: Bronwen Sharpe

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