Oedipus + Antigone
Adaptivity Theatre Company
Earl Arts Centre, Launceston
October 28, 2020
The timing could hardly be better for a staging of Sophocles’ grim classics Oedipus Rex and Antigone, plays about powerful men who ignore wise council and bring about their own destruction. Remarkable then that this production, which seeks to address the problems of today, was to a large extent planned by Adaptivity Theatre Company in 2019, when the problems of today looked decidedly different.
Adaptivity first emerged on the Launceston theatre scene in 2017 with an inventive production of Much Ado About Nothing, which featured, parallel to the onstage action, additional content on social media in which the audience were encouraged to participate.
Oedipus + Antigonê is Adaptivity’s third production, a double bill of the first and last of Sophocles’ Theban plays, and it is unfortunately lacking much of the bold storytelling choices which fuelled the company’s earlier work. Having not read the chosen translation, it is unclear to precisely what extent the script was altered to serve this futuristic take (Oedipus is set in 2040, with Antigone taking place 10 years after). It is certainly clear that efforts have been made to remould the classical works in the image of the 21st century, but this time the changes are reflected mostly in the set design, costuming, and certain AV elements.
This is particularly disheartening given that there is certainly merit in what alterations there are. Oedipus himself has been reframed as a doctor who seeks to heal Thebes from his household clinic, which serves as the set for the first play of the evening. Casting Oedipus as both leader and healer has some arresting implications, particularly regarding his climactic self-mutilation, but the text so resists the connection of that thread that any opportunities for further insight remain unseized.
Concept is not everything though, and the attempts to modernise Sophocles’ work may be half-hearted but can do little to diminish their dramatic power. There are impactful moments of emotion, particularly in the grief of Antigone (Olivia Brodzinski), Creon (here a gender-swapped Creona, played by Anne Riley), and Oedipus (Matt Taylor), and far more humour than one might expect given the subject matter, a very welcome addition indeed. Special mention must be made here of Robbie Bleakley, playing a probate lawyer who reveals to Oedipus his unwitting sins, and whose energy and clear character intentions help galvanise the production. He, along with Aaron Beck, who brings an appropriate restraint (and a FANTASTIC wig) to the seer Teiresias, was also responsible for a choreographed sequence depicting the battle between Oedipus’ sons, which was among the most engaging moments of the evening.
Much of the Chorus’ lines have been wisely reworked as song with original music by Karlin Love, which proved quite effective, even haunting when the Chorus chant in unison. The sparseness of the set design has a twofold effect. Fewer distractions place the focus squarely on the performances and the language, but the rear wall (and thus much of the action) is placed so far upstage that it at times becomes difficult to hear what the cast are saying.
Following Oedipus + Antigone, I find myself wishing only that the play had been taken further conceptually. What exists you will still find enjoyable. A coherent and often charming take on a classic tale of tragedy and hubris that, given the parallels to certain present-day figures of authority, may still leave you with a smile on your face.
Review by Ryan Politis (Associate Artist)