#SheReviews Antigone

November 4, 2019

Opening Night for Queensland Theatre’s last play of the year showcased the Sophocles classic Antigone. This tale as old as a time has been given a pertinent modern twist thanks to Playwright Merlynn Tong. She Society were excited to attend this event after recently interviewing one of its stars ,Shubshri Kandiah. 

It’s the first time I’ve seen this classic performed live and was worried it might be a bit heavy for me. But under the crisp direction of Travis Dowling and with the experienced Christen O’Leary at the helm we were taken on a journey through the lives of the citizens of Thebes which was full of power, moral dilemmas and drama. Thanks to Queensland Theatre and Kath Rose for inviting us along to enjoy this dramatic and emotional ride.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this was a modern day news report protesting climate change instead of a Greek tragedy more than two Millenia old. It tells the story of a brave young woman standing up to those in authority, an activist, who dares to question the status quo. A great city has been torn apart by a civil war between two brothers. In the aftermath both lie dead – one hailed as a hero and lying in state, the other condemned as a traitor and dumped in a carrion pile. From the ashes of their conflict rises a new matriarchal leader Creon, a politician who rose to power by dint of her ruthlessness. 

Grieving and heartbroken, it is only Antigone who questions their fate and fights for the right to mourn and bury her brother with dignity. Her stance sparks a rebellion that shakes the city to its very core.

The Cast 

The primarily female cast approach their roles with gusto and guts. It was a very brave move for Christen O’ Leary ( Wentworth, Twelfth Night, Ladies In Black) to play Creon, a traditionally male role. When I interviewed her last year many in the industry had cautioned her about taking on this role. It was only the support of her husband that gave her the courage to accept the challenge and what a fist she makes of it. Sporting a shock of white blonde hair this petite actor commands attention with a presence that is both fierce and nurturing at the same time. Her struggle between being a mother and a fearless leader is exciting to watch. She becomes Creon. 

Jessica Tovey ( Home and Away, Underbelly, Twelfth Night) plays the title role of Antigone. Each scene she is in grabs the attention of the audience and I couldn’t help comparing her to our modern day activist Greta Thunberg , with her commanding speeches, courage and conviction. She even sports the plaits to further the comparison. Jessica plays the role with such strength that you are compelled to cheer for her cause, even though the edge of darkness suggests that her efforts will be in vain.

In startling contrast to Antigone is her sister,  Ismene. Shubshri Kandiah ( Aladdin) lifts the roof with her amazing operatic voice performing the chorus. Speaking later to members of the audience, all were blown away by this young woman’s talent. Her stage mastery and presence were a joy to watch. 

Kevin Spink ( Hydra, Twelfth Night, Macbeth) plays Creon’s son Haemon. He is the voice of reason and counsel to his mother, showing the gentleness beneath her tough exterior. The chemistry between these two stars had a lump in my throat as it always does when I see such believable interactions between mothers and sons. 

One of my favourites , Penny  Everingham , ( Once in Royal David’s City, Pygmalion, The Crucible) relishes her turn as the wise sage, Tiresias. She has the audience hanging on her every word as she stands majestically above us all.

Don’t be frightened by the classics. This story is just as relevant now as when Sophocles first wrote it almost 2, 500 years ago. It is a dramatic and epic Greek tragedy which will make you feel the gamut of emotions from fear to laughter, happiness to pain. It’s fitting that this last play of the 2019 season takes us back to the roots of modern theatre and shows us that to be human, to care, to stand up for what you believe in and the love between family has never changed. This heart wrenching play performed by some of the best in the business will be playing at the lovely Bille Brown Theatre until 16 November. The emotions will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

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