University of Newcastle, NSW,
March 6-25, 1996
Reviewed by Liz Roberts
In March this year Prof. Michael Ewans directed the premiere season of his
own new English translation of *Antigone* by Sophokles, for the forthcoming complete Sophokles in the Everyman Classics series. The play was presented in the Newcastle University Drama Studio, where a half- size model of the ancient Greek orchestra was re-created, with the audience seating around three-quarters of the circle. The size of the theatre permitted only three tiers of seating, but the space was both panoramic and intimate. The *skene* consisted of a dishevelled stone building with central doors; only a coil of barbed wire broke the illusion of antiquity.
Despite the suggestion of the authentic Greek theatre, a decision had been
made to use lighting, out of necessary practicalities and as an unobtrusive
assistance to the modern audience, so accustomed to this device. The
Director's goal seemed to be to stay within the realms of authenticity until
it interfered with the modern audience's ability to experience *Antigone* in the spirit in which it was originally written.
This production was set in Sarajevo in modern times, a plausible location
for such a tragic and violent play. This context gave the modern audience a valid framework for the heightened emotions and passion expressed by the cast and the graphic bloodshed unavoidable in war (and not untypical of Prof. Ewans' productions). As a Muslim society, Sarajevo gave a legitimate modern setting to the culturally accepted powerlessness of women, which is an important challenge to the internal strength of Antigone and the basis for Ismene's belief 'that we were born female/ so we can't fight men'.
Talent was distributed evenly throughout the cast, drawn principally from
students of the Departments of Classics and Drama, with the actors credibly cast in their roles. Helen Atkinson, who played the title role, is a petite young woman, who rose to the challenge of subverting the traditional stereotype of a Greek tragic heroine, without the overkill that would lose her the empathy of the audience. She gave an emotionally fearless performance that set the pitch for the other characters.
Kreon, played by Tom Bonjekovic as a middle-aged, leather-jacketed
warlord rather than the traditional patriarch, was a strong force in the
production; his was a passionate and enthusiastic performance. He was big
in his reactions, giving justification to the paranoid tendencies of Kreon,
and maintained a strong pace throughout the whole play, with even more
to give at the deaths of his household in the closing scene.
Lauren Eade played Ismene as a true sisterly match to Antigone. She drew
empathy from the audience for Ismene's lack of courage but not at Antigone's expense.
One of the most dynamic features of the play was the work done by the
Choros, the five councillors of the city. They were each different in height
and build, showing a lifelike diversity of the people they represented.
Although their routine was not always precisely executed, there was a
uniformity of spirit as they expressed the odes and one found oneself
waiting for their action or reappearance on stage. Christine Smith had
choreographed a fascinating blend of dance and rhythmic movement to
the Iranian folk music of Anouar Brahen. This, coupled with the unusual
dynamic of having five men thus engaged, was moving and added a rich
texture to the production.
Prof. Ewans made some changes to his translation during rehearsal, to
give fluidity to the action. Initially one was conscious of the fact that the
speech was different from everyday language in its beauty, but the actors
were fluent in the script and the unfolding of the plot quickly became the
focus. As part of the audience one found oneself easily transported into
the story, which one may reasonably assume was a goal of Sophokles.
It is not difficult to be enthusiastic about a production so creatively
directed. Prof. Ewans' obvious knowledge of ancient Greek theatre gave
him a confidence to utilise totally the benefits of the round stage in the
'free' movement of the actors. This unselfconscious blocking left
the actors with their backs to some of the audience, an almost inevitable
result of playing in the round, and one which gave each audience member
a unique perspective on the action. Ewans was able to take an almost
mythical story and revive it with poignancy. One looks forward to
his next venture (*Aias*, in March 1997).
A video recording of the Newcastle production of *Antigone* will be
available, in both PAL and NTSC formats, from late June. Enquiries and
orders can be sent to Prof. Michael Ewans, Dept of Drama, University of
Newcastle NSW Australia.
Reviewed by Liz Roberts
(Liz Roberts is a student at Newcastle.)