Venue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), Apr 23 – May 2, 2015
Playwright: Jean Anouilh (translated by Kris Shalvey and Anna Jahjah)
Director: Anna Jahjah
Cast: Roslyn Blake, Kate Fraser, Kirsty Jordan, Aurora Kinsella, Karl Kinsella, Philippe Klaus, Neil Modra, Gerry Sont, Ellen Williams, and students from Blacktown Girls High
The word “wilful” is usually applied to the young, along with connotations of idealism and immaturity. We think of them as “not knowing any better” to explain away their inconvenient behaviour. The lead character in Jean Anouilh’s Antigone is all of the above, but she is also virtuous. Like us, her world is one that has too many things gone awry, yet everyone is required to stick to its rules in order that an illusory sense of order can be preserved. Anarchic activity is often classed criminal, regardless of intentions good, bad or ugly. This twenty year-old woman knows the dire consequences that await but she is fearless, and proceeds to do what she believes to be right. Anouilh’s version of the Greek tragedy is passionate, philosophical and political. It is a stirring piece of writing that provides inspiration for the way we make choices, and the way we create theatre. Its incorporation of a chorus and narrator allows for ideas to be articulated directly, while sequences of realism (beautifully preserved in this English language translation by Kris Shalvey and Anna Jahjah) puts us in scenarios that feel familiar in spite of their contextual distance.
Direction of the piece by Jahjah is energetic and suitably expressive. The use of a chorus comprising only of young girls, puts focus on the dimension of gender in the play’s arguments. All dressed in white, their innocence and purity of spirit are the physical embodiment of the text’s key motifs. Use of space is inventive and thoughtful. Characters are positioned freely within the dynamically designed space, and their movements contribute to the depiction of emotional states and of narratives unfolding. Jahjah’s work may not always be affecting, but her production is a surprisingly entertaining one.
Ellen Williams is impressive as our heroine, with a deeply authentic fury and righteousness that gives the show its poignant foundations. We share Antigone’s beliefs, and are thrilled to see her fighting with conviction and wild abandon. Williams shows glimpses of tenderness and sadness that helps us connect with her role’s humanity, but these do not surface often enough. The cast works well to keep us amused and engaged, but many of the key roles are not explored with enough complexity and nuance. Creon is Antigone’s uncle and adversary, whose strong oppositional points of view raise the stakes and add to the drama, but Neil Modra’s work, while exuberant and charmingly idiosyncratic, does not convey his character’s beliefs with sufficient clarity. The central struggle of the show then becomes unbalanced and disappointingly, weakened.
There are many things we want for our children, but courage is not always at the top of lists. We are afraid of what might result, and prefer instead for them to grow up cautious, sensible and safe. It is our responsibility after all, to be their shelter from harm. In Antigone, honour comes at a price, although glory is nowhere to be found. In a tragedy where nobody wins, the moral of the story can be ambiguous. The value of a life is usually determined by how well we live it, and how long we are able to experience it. Only in rare cases are we able to judge a life by the legacy it leaves behind.