Last night the Classics and Drama departments co-hosted a blistering new production of Sophocles’ Antigone, presented by the professional touring company Actors of Dionysus. Shifting the action from Sophocles’ ancient Greek original to a futuristic dystopian world where fate is written in code and drones flock across the skies, AOD’s adaptation was challenging, intense, original and exhilarating.
Greek drama’s power comes from its ability to strike home at an extraordinary, invigorating depth in its audience: its distance from the present day makes it original in a way that modern thought, so bound up in our present affairs, cannot hope to match.
This new adaptation, like Sophocles’ version, begins in the aftermath of a violent battle for the control of Thebes. Antigone’s two brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles, have both died. The new ruler Creon declares that Eteocles will be honoured, while the rebel Polyneices will not be buried but, in a new twist, he is to be left in limbo to relive his death over and over again for all eternity. Antigone’s grief turns to defiance. She dares to take a stand for what she believes in and comes up against Creon’s authority.
The play showcases, then, the power of Classical drama to ask important, eternal questions about the human condition: what is loss? How can, and should, power be wielded? What happens when temporal authority comes into conflict with moral law? For an ancient Greek, this is hardly (or hardly only) a rarefied intellectual debate. Rather these are questions of raw emotional force that penetrate everyone’s lives, presented here in an unforgettable way.