Polly Findlay’s production of Don Taylor’s new translation of Sophocles’s classic tragedy seems firmly moored in the 1970s, subtly subjugating the female characters while pretending that they have all the freedoms of men. Soutra Gilmor’s set expands upon that, creating a man’s world- a dark, wood-paneled office with smoky glass doors, reel-to-reel tape decks, and pendant lamps which hang low enough to occasionally obscure the onstage action. The production sought to use all the Olivier’s bells and whistles, whether it needed to or not. The set rotated twice during the performance, for no reason other than it could, and the cast, a whopping twenty people, seemed at the same time to overwhelm the stage, all while standing too still to use it properly.
As Creon, new head of the Theban military dictatorship, Christopher Eccleston is disappointing. He takes charge of the new regime well enough, but when the situation calls for any show of emotion, he falters. At the end of the play, Creon appears more frustrated that his government is falling apart than that his family is all dead. Jodie Whittaker’s Antigone is most effective in her final appearance onstage, happy to die for the honor she’s been able to accord for her family, though screaming about injustice for all to hear. It’s an odd thing that the production, so grounded in the world of men, is at its strongest when only a woman is speaking.
Antigone plays through 21st July.