Review: The Last Hour of Antigone at Camden People’s Theatre

While the intricacies of our moral code may have shifted a little since 441 BC, Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone still has a certain relevance to a modern audience. Following a rebellious and righteous young woman as she battles with the opposing laws of the Gods and mortal rulers, the work certainly has the potential to ask questions about how we challenge our lawmakers.

It comes as no surprise then, that Spanish playwright Raúl Quirós Molina and American director Sarah Provencal have combined their mutual backgrounds in Theatre of the Oppressed in order to rip into this ancient tale with a modern energy through this new play. What is surprising, though, is how this production ultimately does so little to interrogate weak leadership and public apathy despite its bold and conscientious goals.

Functioning as a DVD bonus feature to Sophocles’ great box-set, The Last Hour of Antigone serves up an ambitious yet unaccomplished departure from the original play. Delivered in just fifty-five minutes, the production has little time for those unfamiliar with the source text, and the motivations behind Antigone’s civil crime are skimmed over lightly. In such a skinny edit, the play wastes time melodramatically lamenting over hypocritical gods, missing the opportunity to position our heroine in any specific modern context. With the death penalty still a contentious issue globally and the position of Greek youth being especially charged, the casual treatment of Antigone’s sentence truly misses the mark in this aspirational political drama.

The damp reaction to Antigone’s nightmare predicament is not the only instance where the show skirts on the borders of something greater. It feels like this production should be delivered in real time, but a running time of fifty-five minutes makes for a clumsy fit that is frustratingly more “off the rail” than “tailored”. It’s odd that the company has veered so close to a match without committing fully to a minute-by-minute countdown, but there’s promise in the idea that this age-old tale can be made to suit our time, if not conceptually, then certainly in a literal sense.

After Sophocles Antigone cast this fearless woman as a political actor, the title of Molina’s work promises to bring the focus back onto our passionate young rebel as a flesh and blood mortal, the dregs of her life slipping away as the play unravels. Delivered in what is, for argument’s sake, real time, this work should be able to cast a rigorous and relevant scrutiny over the moral dilemmas Antigone faces as she disobeys misguided leader Creon in order to bury her brother. Instead, Kim Morrison’s heroine had been furnished with a brattish heavy-handedness that comes across as merely hormonal, lessening the impact of her attempts to save a fragile society. The faux-empathetic line, “I remember your compassion. Your kindness” is spat out with venom at Creon, poisoning what has the potential to be a line of mesmerising, manipulative horror. Lacking the compassion she demands from others, this production’s Antigone is far from persuasive.

While rhetorical compassion misfires, awkward stabs at comic relief also fail to evoke any fellow feeling. It may be a relief to note that the company has resisted making relevant modern-day jokes about Argos, but in Katrina Hasthorpe’s capturing of Tiresias, the blind soothsayer, a pair of oversized sunglasses is employed to turn impairment into laughs. Even if we are to forgive the questionable nature of this disability-based humour, there’s something very bizarre about the decision to make light of one of the most striking motifs in Sophocles’ work.

We can presume that, in their quest to modernise this work, this company didn’t offer too many calves to Dike, the scale-wielding Greek God of balance and justice. Here, the thrust of the narratives suffers dually from an overbearing Antigone and a revolutionary spirit that is far too subtle. With our titular character a flat and charmless adolescent, the responsibility falls onto the production to either give us a reason to respect the actions of Antigone, or to urge us to volunteer as a more effective revolutionary. A chorus of elders, children and common city men form a compelling cluster of abandoned dreamers at the tipping point into disenchantment, but a mirror that couldn’t even alter Medusa has a long way to go before it can forge an impact on upon the indifferent society that is the real tragedy here.

First published on Exeunt

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