Mermaids’ production of Antigone, directed by Greta Kelly and Lorna Govan, is a well thought-through reading of the famous Greek tragedy. The direction was faithful to the text and successfully conveyed Sophocles’ adaptation of the ancient myth, thanks to striking performances from the entire cast. This same faithfulness to the text, however, fails to make the themes of the tragedy relevant to a contemporary audience, which ultimately undermines the power of the production.
As actors performed on an almost bare stage (with the exception of an armchair used as Creon’s throne), the audience’s focus was on the overall good quality of the acting and the words of the playwright. The seats were arranged in a thrust layout, completed on one end by a row of chairs used by the chorus throughout the performance, which put the audience on the same level as them. Not only did this choice make the audience feel truly immersed in the dramatic action, but it also emphasised the idea that the chorus embodies the common-sense perspective of the average audience member. Kelly and Govan’s brilliant approach to the chorus was truly one of the best elements of this production, as the decision to transform it into a group of journalists asking questions in a press-conference style proved to be a refreshing solution to something which is often tricky for modern productions to deal with. In this way, sections of the text which might have felt cryptic to a spectator new to Greek tragedy were delivered in a more natural way and felt more consistent with the rest of the play.
The actors in the chorus must also be praised for this achievement, as their good timing and ensemble work contributed to its success. Other stand-out performances from outside the chorus include Mirrhyn Stephen, who convincingly tackled a wide range of emotions as the Guard, and George Watts as Creon. Watts in particular, interpreting the newly-appointed King of Thebes as a somewhat awkward and frustrated man, shed a new and original light on a complex role which could have easily been underplayed as an emotionless tyrant.
While blocking and transitions felt awkward at times, with actors pacing around the stage and unnecessary movements, the cast and crew managed to pull off an enjoyable show which understood and communicated to the audience the complexities of the tragedy. While Kelly and Govan must thus be praised for having succeeded in staging such a difficult text in a refreshing and thoughtful manner, I nevertheless feel that they have not been ambitious enough. In a time when Brett Kavanaugh is accused of sexual assault and still manages to get into the US Supreme Court; when human rights are ignored on a daily basis in the name of inhuman laws; when anti-immigration policies separate parents from their children; in our time, the tale of a woman fighting against mindless male power to honour her family and her own dignity should feel incredibly relevant. However, by being too faithful to the original text, this production of Antigone, while managing to be an enjoyable and well-acted show, ultimately misses a great opportunity to talk about our present times.