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Posts Tagged ‘Sophocles’

I’m fond of a Greek tragedy and welcomed the opportunity to catch this rarely revived one. Kae Tempest has adapted Sophocles 2500-year-old play about warrior Philoctetes, stranded for ten years on an island after a dispute with fellow soldier Odysseus. Neoptolemus, son of Philoctetes’ friend Achilles, now dead, has been sent to bring him back to the war front. Tempest has been faithful to Sophocles in the first part, but makes a significant change to its conclusion, producing an interesting roundedness, if not a faithful retelling.

The Olivier is back in the round and the action takes place in a ‘bear pit’ with the playing area extended to replace the left side stalls and use the ‘shelf’ above the right side stalls. The chorus of nine women seem to be a refugee camp, onstage throughout. Sometimes a chorus seems incongruous in modern adaptations, but here they prove to be a key element of both the story and the staging. It’s a while before we meet our protagonist, out hunting as usual, but we are introduced to Neoptolemus soon after and the story of how Philoctetes got there, and Neoptolemus’ intentions, are revealed.

The arrival of Philoctetes’ nemesis Odysseus, at first hidden from Philoctetes, begins the twist in the tale, and what follows is both a battle over the moral high ground and over Philoctetes fate, with deceit and lies employed by Neoptolemus and Odysseus in an attempt to achieve their objectives. The chorus reveal where their sympathies lie and become involved rather than remain onlookers.

Ian Rickson’s taut, visceral production casts all three warriors as women playing men with Lesley Sharp, Gloria Obianyo and Anastasia Hille all investing their characters with deep passion and determination. All nine chorus members are terrific, both when reacting as one and when standing out individually. Rae Smith’s evocative design and Mark Henderson’s brilliant lighting create a compelling setting for this war of words.

A show which fits the Olivier perfectly, brilliantly staged and designed, with a fine set of performances. Proper drama.

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Oh I do love a Greek tragedy – and I don’t mean an economic one – and it ceases to amaze me how fresh a 2500 year old play can be. This modern staging of the third part of Sophocles trilogy is no exception.

We’re in a present day tyranny like Syria, where the new leader Creon decrees that one of Antigone’s recently deceased brothers, Polynices, won’t be given the honour of a burial, which destines him to go to hell. She’s had a pretty shit life, what with her dad Oedipus blinding himself and sent into exile after discovering he’d killed his father and married his mother by mistake, and her mother committing suicide when she found out. What would Jeremy Kyle have made of it?

Of course, she defies Creon, which leads to her death and that of her intended, Creon’s son Haemon, the news of which leads to Creon’s wife taking her own life, all before Creon has had a chance to make things right after the seer Teiresias warns him that the gods are more than a bit pissed off. Sadly, all the death’s take place offstage.

Polly Findlay’s production has great pace and some welcome restraint (Greek tragedy is often OTT) and Soutra Gilmour’s set creates a government office complex with walls that match the NT’s own concrete. There’s superb lighting from Mark Henderson and a great soundscape from Sound & Fury’s Dan Jones.

Christopher Eccleston and Jodie Whittaker are excellent as Creon and Antigone and there’s very good work from Luke Norris as the soldier who brings the news of defiance and later responsibility for it and from Jamie Ballard as the blind Teiresias.

It might be 2500 years old, but it’s a completely believable story of tyrannical rule much like we still see in the world today on an all too regular basis. It fits the Olivier like a glove and makes for a crackingly dramatic 90 minutes. Loved it.

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