Review: ANTIGONE, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

A feat of theatrical excellence that boldly dissects faith and freedom

By: Sep. 10, 2022
Review: ANTIGONE, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Review: ANTIGONE, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre Nigerian born writer, Inua Ellams, originally turned down working on Antigone due to feeling "no distant kinship with the protagonist." Five years later, how could Ellams have predicted that his modern adaptation would feel so responsive to the current socio-political climate. In this instance, Antigone feels both historically epic and refreshingly new. One of Sophocles' oldest texts now tells a story of displaced Muslim identities and the blatant failures of the British government.

The charming Creon (Tony Jayawardena) offers a nuanced insight into the complexities of political ambition. Doubting wife, Euridice (Pandora Colin) and anguished stepson Haemon (Oliver Johnstone) evolve from pawns to opponents in his calculated rise to Prime Minister. Creon's harsh Bill of Rights ensures one of his deceased nephews receives a public funeral, whilst the other is left stateless with no burial.

Antigone (Zainab Hasan) is ardent in her belief that the body of her abandoned brother must be laid to rest; her actions setting off a sequence of events bursting with defiance and destruction. Polyneices is masterfully portrayed by Nadeem Islam - I strongly suggest reading his thoughts and experiences of accessibility for the Deaf community in the programme. Razak Osman and Rhianna Dorris are particularly captivating both as Lyra and Athan and within the chorus. The truth is the entire cast excels in their respective roles.

Co-founder and co-artistic director of Boy Blue, Michael Asante MBE, has composed a haunting score that makes the disparity of suffering glaringly apparent. In response to Antigone's criticisms, the frequent declaration "this is England" as an answer for inequality reflects the nations ignorance towards violence, both national and domestic.

The corruption of politics is a steadfast notion that infects every interaction, gracefully manoeuvred by director Max Webster and co-director Jo Tyabji. Antigone refuses to give in and continues to object social modesty, reminding us that this ignorance only aids the transition of white supremacy from systemic to cultural oppression.

Ellams poetry, delivered by the chorus, is devastatingly beautiful, traversing multifaceted depictions of British people and constantly questioning the ways in which we consume media and ideology. Creon and Antigone exist under a shared violence, their pursuits for righteousness are the same underneath opposing translations of religious morality. The chorus of young Muslims echo an experience too often ignored, that Britain's "greatness" allows for the repeated dehumanisation of Black and Brown people.

Carrie-Anne Ingrouille's choreography is sharp and deeply emotive, overflowing with frustration. Ingrouille's chorography is stylistically recognisable but here possesses a unique movement heritage, forming a collective response to both personal and cultural trauma. Leslie Travers' distinctive 3D set is used both for physical leverage and as a visual mark of corruption, as Antigone's name is broken into pieces and thrown onto the grass. The empty stage feels vast and cold, reverberating each instance of suffering against dead concrete walls.

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre have empowered an elite creative team, who have crafted an ancient text into a dichotomy of expansive environment and pointed commentary. This production is a marathon confrontation of systemic racism, white power, and gender imbalance as modern pillars of privilege that actively silence those mourning the loss of their cultural history.

Ellams consulted multiple Muslim script advisors to create an authentic framework that guided the production, including Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Anjuli Bedi, Namsi Khan and Suhaiymah Manazoor-Khan. He recommends reading their own work to further dissect the experiences within the play.

When we as a nation digest news and propaganda, we forget that it is entirely possible for opposing narratives to ever coexist. In Antigone, there are important questions that cannot be ignored: how can anyone quantify suffering? Where does the authority to remove narratives of grief come from and to what effect does the comfort of few displace the safety of many?

Antigone is at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre until 24 September

Photo Credit: Helen Murray