Christen O’Leary as Creon and Jessica Tovey as Antigone. Photo by Dylan Evans
Adapted by Merlynn Tong after Sophocles
Directed by Travis Dowling
Bille Brown Theatre
Season: October 26-November 16. Duration: 70 minutes without interval. Bookings: 1800 355 528 or firstname.lastname@example.org
What a stunning evening! A beautifully crafted, lyrical script, a technically and visually impressive set and five fine actors had the audience enthralled from the first second. It was truly 70 minutes of power and passion and was a triumphant finale for outgoing Artistic Director Sam Strong.
Merlynn Tong has taken Sophocles’ tragedy of filial disconnect and duty, and retold it with beautiful language and brilliant characterisation. There was not a moment when this two-millennium-old tale lost modern relevance. War and hate are still dominant in our world.
Thebes has been wrecked by civil war between brothers Polynices and Eteocles. Both are killed in the conflict and Creon, made king in Sophocles’ version, but in this production is a Queen, played with such strength by Christen O’Leary. This was a masterstroke from Merlynn Tong for as well as being imperious and stubborn Creon was made vulnerable with the added twist of a mother’s love for her son Haemon, a sensitive soul who was nicely played as a foil for Creon and Antigone by Kevin Spink. O’Leary switched from hard-line dictator to loving mother; from lawful strength to maternal softness, fear and indecision with ease. She was awesome to watch.
When Creon declares that Eteocles is to have the equivalent of a state funeral while Polynices is to suffer the indignity of not even being buried or mourned, their young sister Antigone defies the decree, steals the body an buries it.
The battle of wills between the stubborn queen and her defiant niece provides the strength of the high drama. Their scenes together were electric.
Jessica Tovey played Antigone and matched O’Leary stride for stride with another superb performance; their mental jousting was engrossing and their stage presence supreme.
On top of the drama we had an added extra – actor/soprano Shubshri Kandiah as Antigone’s sister Ismene. Not only did she act well but sang a couple of operatic arias with beautiful tone, range and power. It was a different role from her first pro gig as Jasmine in Disney’s Aladdin! She certainly has a beautiful voice.
Penny Everingham made up the cast with a short but sweet delivery of some dire consequences for Creon as the prophet Tiresias.
I have to congratulate Travis Dowling the young director on his casting and his work overall on his first mainhouse directing job. He is currently an associate director with Queensland Theatre, but judging by this effort is looking to a bright future.
As then tension between the protagonists bristled, the atmosphere was enhanced by the brooding stone walls of Vilma Mattila’s set and the cleverly hidden and (when needed) brightly lit second storey box plus more moody lighting from Ben Hughes.
Costumes too fitted the sombre theme. No kilts or long Greek frocks, but functional modern dress designed to character and supervised by Nathalie Ryner.
I loved this production. Go and see it if you can get a ticket.