Critique of Antigone – a poetic tragedy on modern British Muslim life | Theater

INua Ellams’ Antigone is the drama of unjust law and just rebellion we know from Sophocles’ Theban Cycle…but re-engineered for our time. The story of Antigone’s lone stance against the state is brought to life here and now with a British Pakistani Muslim family at its heart, beleaguered in a nation plagued by Islamophobia and police prejudice.

Creon is the country’s first Muslim prime minister, making counterterrorism laws that supersede international codes of conduct. This is what deprives Polynices of his funeral rights after his radicalization and his death in Syria.

Directed by Max Webster, this is an incredibly dynamic production with youthful energy, a striking lead in Zainab Hasan and plenty of wow in its direction. Its script isn’t perfect and not all of the main characters are fully fledged, but the production finds its power in the music and the optics of big theater.

Contemplative moments… Antigone by Inua Ellams. Photography: Helen Murray

Like Kamila Shamsie’s award-winning women’s novel Home Fire, also inspired by Antigone, Ellams presents a rich and relevant parallel in the transposition to British Muslims today. Meaty, discursive current affairs run through the room, from discussions of the government’s prevention strategy to the Western obsession with the hijab, and ideas of statelessness and citizenship that echo Shamima Begum’s story. Tiresius (Eli London) is smartly upgraded to become a tech whiz in a hoodie whose clairvoyant gifts come through data analysis, while the conflict between Creon’s man-made law and divine rights is skillfully addressed.

The production seems unique in the way it portrays Islam: it is more contemplative in the moments of spiritual ritual, ablution and prayer spoken in Koranic Arabic, which show that Islam is above all a faith – and a beautiful – on a political or political system. identity symbol.

What we don’t dwell on is character. The first scenes are too short and functional. The plot unfolds at a fairly rapid pace in stops and starts, and the characters all state their motivations. And there isn’t always enough drama in the spoken scenes: the relationship between Hémon (Oliver Johnstone) and Antigone is anemic, and Eurydice (Pandora Collins), who is Creon’s wife and political adviser, is under-loaded in her maternal role.

ANTIGONE by Inua Ellams;  Directed by Max Webster
Propulsive and poetic… the chorus. Photography: Helen Murray

But Ellams’ script excels in lyrical pauses between spoken dialogue, with a chorus dancing and singing or rapping in verse. The effect is propulsive and poetic, combined with the addictive music of Michael “Mikey J” Asante, the driving choreography of Carrie-Anne Ingrouille and the dynamic lighting of Jack Knowles. We wait for the choir to emerge and they never disappoint, making this show feel like Antigone: The Musical in the best possible way.

Antigone herself is a well-formed role heavily delivered by Hasan: a reluctant rebel in jeans and a bandana. Creon, in the hands of Tony Jayawardena, is just as strong and mean. “Yes I can,” he says, twisting Obama’s campaign slogan for his own selfish ends as the piece takes a look at politicians of color, from Sajid Javid to Priti Patel, who are accused of betraying their own communities with policies hostile to immigration, race and religion. .

The beat and thrill of the staging is seductive, as well as the stark visual magnificence of Leslie Travers’ set design, which literally throws its opening offstage and uses the void to its fullest with fire, smoke and spotlights. . The emotional tension of the final tragedy isn’t delivered, but it’s thrilling and extremely watchable theater nonetheless.

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