Wednesday, 23 May 2012
To the National to see the new production of Antigone starring Christopher Eccleston as Creon. It's a brilliantly topical production, transposing ancient Thebes to a Pentagon-esque bunker where, protected by reinforced concrete walls and surveillance reports, military strategists and spin doctors swarm to the King's command in the desperate goal of protecting the state at all costs.
In a chilling opening sequence which mirrors Obama's inner sanctum settling down to watch Operation Neptune Spear, the State sanction execution of Bin Laden, delivered live to the situation room via a camera strapped to a navy seal's helmet, Creon's chiefs of staff watch the final moments of the fatal battle between Oedipus' sons Polynices and Eteocles with all the anticipation and excitement of a sporting event.
It's a clever touch, immediately reminding us that the state in its form is never a harmless abstract, but real, visceral and capable of grotesque acts of brutality in order to justify its existence.
Eccleston's performance reveals the inflexibility of a leader assured that freedom can only flourish beneath firm authority. A decision which, as his world collapses around him, is revealed to be ultimately self-destructive. His final image a brooding monstrous shape, casting long shadows down the dimly lit corridors of a hidden secret world.
In contrast Jodie Whittaker's Antigone comes across as a bright light of protest, looking for truth in the corners, bravely refusing to give in to threat and intimidation. Her failure to acknowledge the subtleties of statecraft becomes her most potent power. Not for her the protocols of his self-perpetuating regime.
Most haunting of all is Jamie Ballard's Teiresias, skin burnt, a reminder of the indiscriminate victims of chemistry and bombs. His prophetic presence both a visual and spoken assertion of the tragedies unfolding.
This is a beautiful piece of work using an ancient text to throw light on a contemporary question. One that all of us, living in the modern world need to ask. What duties can the State justly expect of its citizens? And what are the consequences that await those who do not obey?