‘Antigone’ was haunting.
Another Queensland Theatre season took its final bow, and boy did it end with a bang.
Presenting one of the world’s longest living plays, Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’ has taken Brisbane by storm in Queensland Theatre’s epic retelling of the enthralling tale. In a must-see adaptation by Matilda Award-winning playwright, Merlynn Tong, the production proves that it’s message is just as relevant in today’s society. The director, Travis Dowling, states in the programme that, “this re-imagining is both true to the original tale, and an effective reminder that the political and social turmoil explored in the play is still evident in our 2019 world.”
The story-line follows Antigone, the youngest daughter of King Oedipus, who is famously known for killing his father and marrying his mother. Driven by passion, Antigone defies the law by providing her brother with a proper burial, and in doing so defies the new Queen, her aunt Creon. When Creon discovers her niece’s crime, she turns on Antigone and sentences her to death. However, Creon’s son Haimon is distraught by the situation, torn between his unnerving love for his cousin, Antigone, and his loyalty to his mother. This play positions its audience to question whether morality, civil rights, family or law and order, are more valuable to society?
Dowling brought the play to life with detail and intricacy in his direction. Every choice had a purpose, every action served the play, and every technical component aided its telling. The space was utilised beautifully, with all areas of the stage explored; from Creon and Haimon holding each other and leaning against the far-left wall, to Ismene singing her haunting Laments in the back corner to the right. In addition to space, the pace of the production was perfectly considered, as Dowling played with the speed of scenes so that each moment propelled the audience into the next.
The technical aspects were commendable, as they created a somewhat immersive feel. One of the highlights of ‘Antigone’ was in the opening scene. The entire theatre went pitch black as the sounds of a battle played out using various levels of sound, speakers and creating surround sound. By bringing down the lights, senses were heightened and the audience was transported to the battlefield.
This was the work of Lighting Designer, Ben Hughes, who incorporated an eerie, epic and incredibly effective use of lighting. The use of light and shade was terrific in telling the story and heightening tension.
Sound Design by Tony Brumpton. Brumpton’s choices transformed the entire production into a lament, a eulogy, as a haunting mood was created throughout the play. His collaboration with Megan Shorey as a Vocal Consultant and Shubshri Kandiah’s (who played Ismene) operatic voice invited the audience into the pain and emotion of the tragedy.
The technical aspects were commendable, as they created a somewhat immersive feel. One of the highlights of ‘Antigone’ wasin the opening scene. The entire theatre went pitch black as the sounds of a battle played out using various levels of sound, speakers and creating surround sound. By bringing down the lights, senses were heightened and the audience was transported to the battlefield.
The geometric industrial Set Design by Vilma Mattila was one of the highlights of the show. Not only did it give a modern feel to an historic show, but the grey angular walls added to the cold undertones of the production. The platform, on which Creon stood to address the people of Thebes, was a nice addition to the set and emphasised her power, control and status. The red light that poured out from the door on the platform eluded to the fact that Creon came from a place of anger, and she would return to that place when she finished her duties. At one point, towards the end of the play, the walls of the set began to leak blood, depicting that the city was bleeding and society suffering, as a direct result of Creon’s mistakes.
Christen O’Leary, in the pivotal and controversial role of Creon, proved that she is a force to be reckoned with. O’Leary’s presence filled the stage whenever she entered. She commanded attention, just as Creon would demand of her people. The choice to cast Creon as a woman added another complex take on the infamous character, as society traditionally perceives male characters as more dominant. Relentlessly, O’Leary governed every other character on stage, appearing to always be in control. Yet, when expressing the love she had for her son, a mother’s instinctive love, O’Leary revealed many layers to her established character. A pin-drop could have been heard in the audience in Creon’s final scene, as we felt her pain, her courage and understood the inner workings of her character.
In the title role, Jessica Tovey was full of life and passion as Antigone. Her anger and her love for her family was admirable and Tovey delivered a believable performance as the strong-willed teenager. She perfectly captured Antigone’s naivety, strength and fierce empathy and had the audience on her side throughout the performance. Tovey’s eccentric characterisation was the perfect contrast to O’Leary’s stern and the two bounced off each other with wonderful chemistry.
Kevin Spink and Shubshri Kandiah, in the minor roles of Haimon and Ismene respectively, gave emotive and captivating performances. Haimon who chooses his Fiance other his mother, who would give anything for him, goes through a frightfully easy-to-watch transformation from calm and collected, to passionately distraught. Spink’s portrayal of Haimon was perfectly balanced. Kandiah’s Ismene, on the other hand, was woeful throughout. She seemed to have no place in the world. All she had was love for her family and a strong sense of obedience. Kandiah gave an emotive performance as Antigone’s sister.
Queensland Theatre’s production of ‘Antigone’ was a perfect way to round out 2019 and could easily be deemed one of the best plays to appear this season. As the battle between law and morality continues to play out, with a young woman such as Greta Thunberg speaking out against governments, ‘Antigone’ was shockingly relevant and appropriate. All aspects of this production were perfectly balanced and with a stellar cast and a poetic, passionate script, this production is a must-see.
‘Antigone’ plays at Queensland Theatre’s Bille Brown Theatre until Saturday, 16 November 2019. Tickets are available at Queensland Theatre’s Website.