Greek political myth parallels British Islam
“You’ve become pugilistic and arrogant….. trying to have our son arrested “
Eurydice to her husband Creon
Inua Ellams’s version of Sophocles Antigone places Antigone’s family in the heart of the British Pakistani community with Antigone (Zainab Hasan) niece of the main politician, her uncle Creon (Tony Jayawardena). Antigone’s sister Ismene (Shazia Nicholls) is employed by her uncle’s political party but Antigone sees her refuge for young homeless people demolished. Antigone’s brother Eteocles (Abe Jarman) is a policeman but her other brother Polyneices, played by the deaf actor Nadeem Islam, is a rebel and orthodox Islamist. The point is that being a Muslim is interpreted in different ways. Scenes with Polyneices are also signed bringing an extra visual dimension to their spoken words.
Through various political manoeuvres organised by political strategist Aleksy (Sandy Grierson as a Dominic Cummings clone), Creon wins an election he wasn’t meant to. The production uses the whole cast in rhythmic movement, powerfully setting the mood with the use of the dancers as a chorus.
We forward in time to when Polyneices’s fate has led him to go abroad to an Isis type cause and where he has married and has two children. As he campaigns for his family to be allowed to return, he learns his children have starved to death in a refugee camp. This made me think about the schoolgirl brides of Isis and their now stateless predicament. Polyneices organises a terrorist attack and after having shot and killed his policeman brother Eteocles, he himself is shot.
The predicament you will now recognise is Antigone wanting to bury her brother Polyneices and not leave his body to be pecked at by crows. Leaving his body unburied is the worst thing you can do to a Muslim. Her other brother Eteocles is given a hero’s funeral. Antigone asks for help from an Iman to release the body of her brother, against Creon’s rule of law.
We hear about the oppressive measures used against those thought to be involved with terrorism, the child who, confused about the words, said he lived in a terrorist house not a terraced one and was subject to a violent police raid.
Again and again, Max Webster’s direction bring visually exciting scenes as the parasitic paparazzi shine their flash cameras, moving together like predators. Co-director is Jo Tyabji and Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s movement is mesmeric.
In Act Two, Antigone and now with her sister Ismene, are under arrest. She washed Polyneices’s body ready for the Janaza rites. Antigone’s intended husband, Haimon (Oliver Johnstone) who is also Creon’s son, and his mother Eurydice (Pandora Colin), plead with Creon to reconsider the disgrace visited on Polyneices’s body and the imprisonment of Antigone.
It is quite thrilling to have these big ideas zapping across the darkening outdoor stage at the Autumnal Open Air. Relevant to us as we consider what will deter terrorism and whom do you punish, the relatives of terrorists? Eurydice makes a moving speech to her husband-to-be and organises a march by the woman to music in another coup de theatre.
The performances are strong throughout and Leslie Travers’s set is composed of huge pink foam letters making up Antigone’s name, which are cast aside as the play progresses. The lighting is dramatic with the use of smoke and flares.
Antigone kills herself as Creon says to release her, but he is too late. I really admire Inua Elllams for this stimulating re-interpretation of the Greek myth.
Adapted from Sophocles
by Inua Ellams
Directed by Max Webster
Director: Max Webster
Co-director: Jo Tyabji
Set Designer: Leslie Travers
Composer: Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante
Choreographer: Carrie-Anne Ingrouille
Lighting Designer: Jack Knowles
Sound Designer: Emma LaxtonCostume Designer: Khadija Raza
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Booking to 24th September 2022
Open Air Theatre
London NW1 4NU
Phone: 0333 400 3562
Tube: Baker Street
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Open Air
on 9th September 2022