Review by Daz Gale
This years programming at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre may have proved divisive but you can’t fault their ambition. Following their productions of Legally Blonde and 101 Dalmatians, their 90th anniversary season comes to a close with their reworking of Antigone. Without a human dressed as a dog in sight, have they saved the best for last?
This contemporary retelling of Sophocles’ Greek tragedy from Inua Ellams follows the story of Antigone whose brothers are killed in a fight. While one of them is granted a heroic burial, the other is given public shamed and denied one. The story focuses on Antigone as she goes against her uncles wishes and attempts to bury her brother.
While all the elements of the classic story are there, the new setting brings things right up to the present day with Antigones brother Eteocles killed trying to stop their other brother Polynices from committing a supposed terrorist attack. The contemporary setting brings up religious elements looking at the attitudes British Muslims face in everyday life as Antigone is met with a divided response and lack of understanding from the public. This inspired touch brings a tale that dates back thousands of year right up to date, making it feel as relevant as ever.
The role of Antigone is played by Zainab Hasan who is outstanding as she plays the conflicted titular character. In an authentic performance, Zainab channels every element of Antigone, delivering a strong and emotive turn. With the ability to relay her cause beyond her fellow cast members, her delivery transcends to the audience, ensuring everyone there is behind her on her quest.
Tony Jayawardena plays Antigone’s uncle, Creon. With the burden of doing what he believes to be right balanced with his seemingly unquenchable thirst for power, Tony is marvellous in the role which could so easily become a one-note villain, showing some of the conflictions he faces in his new role as Prime Minister. Pandora Colin gives an understated performance as Creon’s suffering wife Eurydice while Oliver Johnstone brings a sense of emotional heart to the story as her son and Antigone’s fiancé Haemon.
While their time in the spotlight is cut tragically short, Nadeem Islam and Abe Jarman gives memorable turns as Polyneices and Eteocles while Susan Lawson-Reynolds is perhaps a surprising standout in the role of Commissioner. Antigone is a show where every member of the cast is worth their weight in gold with no weak link between them.
The production value of Antigone more than matches the genius level that is set by their cast. Truly incredible direction from Max Webster and Jo Tyabji along with stunning choreography from Carrie-Anne Ingrouille makes this truly remarkable to watch. With a deceptively simplistic set design from Leslie Travers leading to some truly gorgeous reveals, it is often visually spectacular. Shows in Regent’s Park can come alive with beautiful lighting, and the design from Jack Knowles more than lives up to this, bathing the stage in a glorious glow. An atmospheric use of sound from Emma Laxton ensures every element of this production is of the highest possible standard.
Themes of racism and differing attitudes to different religions, womens rights and even the cost of living crisis are all played out with sincerity and sensitivity, rather than feeling shoehorned in, the themes are included because they are important and relevant to the story. You may not expect to be able to relate to a play that was written thousands of years ago but the way Antigone handles hard-hitting issues really is inspired.
Whether you are familiar with the original story of Antigone or not, it needs to be said just how special this production is. Sometimes productions can struggle when contemporising a classic that has been performed to death over history, and I have definitely seen some questionable ones myself. However, this is how it should be done. Keeping all of the original classic elements while bringing it bang up to date, losing none of the emotion and instead finding new life in the story is a testament to the genius of this adaptation from Inua Ellams, who should not only be applauded by this bold and ambitious new take, but also commended.
The fantastic writing is matched by the incredible staging and production value in what is a true feast for the senses. When you add in a truly phenomenal cast, you are left with a total work of art. Undoubtedly the best production of Regent Park Open Air Theatres 90th anniversary season, talk about saving the best for last. Powerful and thought-provoking, Antigone is a remarkable piece of theatre, and one that deserves to be seen by the masses.
Antigone plays at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until September 24th .Tickets from openairtheatre.com
Photos by Helen Murray