What could something written nearly 2,500 years ago have to say to us today? Well, a hell of a lot actually. As the programme notes have it, Sophocles’s tragedy Antigone is “modern and mythical”. This modern-dress production (the cast look like they might run a firm of international architects) is bold and handsome, with a minimalist set (Jan Versweyveld) dominated by an unforgiving moon/sun/godhead – although it could have done without the distracting video projections. The exultant contemporary translation by Anne Carson mixes the demotic with the classical: “Zeus hates a boaster!”
The plot is full of fratricide, confused loyalties, the dead unburied, blood, dirt and tyrannical acts that gets you in the gut. ‘Friends and family do not come before fatherland,’ says the tyrannical ruler Kreon (and insidiously sibilant Patrick O’Kane). ‘Evildoers have no status,’ he says – yeah, right!
Antigone herself (a sometimes blanched and gaunt looking Juliette Binoche) has defied her uncle Kreon in an act of perfect piety (as she sees it) by burying her traitor brother, rather than leaving him out to rot. She must pay the price; or, will her own rage destroy her?
The direction from Ivo van Hove is precise and the cast riveting. At times the tiny Binoche seems outgunned, her voice often awkwardly reedy, but hers remains a blistering performance. And the soundscape by Daniel Freitag is aptly sullen and mood enhancing. Antigone requires concentration from an audience, but its rewards are manifold. ‘Bad conditions make people lose their minds,’ is a statement that is as true today as it was in ancient Greece. Maybe truer.