'Nothing can we call our own but death and that small model of the barren earth which serves as paste and cover to our bones' Act III, Scene II, Richard II
Sophocles’ Antigone is a brutal tale of conflict, familial love and power. The battle for Thebes has come to an end and brothers Eteocles and Polyneices have killed each other. Left in the aftermath are sisters Ismene and Antigone, along with their uncle King Creon, his wife Eurydice and his son Haemon. Antigone’s one desire is to bury her brother Polyneices, an act forcefully denied by Creon, and her passionate battle to pursue this goal sets in motion the unfolding of the truly devastating tragedy.
The Bristol Classics and Ancient History Society’s shortened edition of this renowned ancient tale successfully captured the brutal essence of the tragedy. As the performance began, a chorus of four, representing the Old Men of Thebes, stood compellingly still, clad in evocative red robes and Eastern style makeup. Their presence throughout the play was essential in sustaining a haunting backdrop to the otherwise bare stage. In a successful variation of classic Ancient choral song and dance, they spoke individually and collectively, however the original music track of violin and guitar which accompanied their voices seemed incongruous with the dark tone of the play. The individual performances were of a high standard - Sophie Stemmons delivered an outstanding performance as Antigone and her stubborn, strong-willed character shone through especially powerfully in the tortured encounter with her submissive sister Ismene, played sensitively by Beth Kent. Stemmons was also very successful in capturing Antigone’s drastic transformation from fiery, fearless martyr to the suddenly vulnerable, frightened young woman contemplating her imminent death outside the cave that is to become her tomb.
Unfortunately, the reduced length of the play did not allow Haemon, played by Louis Paine, much time to grow as a character. Nevertheless, his speech to his father certainly did not lack fervour. Luke Silverman did well in the role of Creon, although the tyrannical side to his character in the first half was more persuasive than his realisation at the end that he had lost all his loved ones as ‘death has bred death.’ As in the style of a Greek Tragedy, all of the violence took place offstage, and the frighteningly swift succession of Antigone’s, Haemon’s and Eurydice’s deaths was conveyed with dramatic power.
This student production encapsulated the themes and mood of Antigone effectively. The lasting image that the audience was presented with was one of loss, desolation and sorrow. There is no glimmer of hope in this compelling tragedy and so the final line, ‘too late citizens, too late,’ as the chorus drew their hands over their eyes, left the play on a fittingly chilling note.