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Review: Antigone at the Bille Brown Theatre, Queensland Theatre

By Regan Baker

It’s been a bit too quiet for me up here in the sunny North over the last few weeks, so believe me when I say – it’s good to be back! And honestly, there could have been no better way to swing back into the writing game than with last night's performance of Antigone by Queensland Theatre. Powerful, emotional and dark, Antigone far surpassed the already high standards I hold for shows put on by Queensland Theatre and took them to a whole new level. So good was the performance that I even had to call my mother and force her to take my girlfriend to see it next week as she was in a show of her own last night and could not accompany me.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Antigone was written by one of the most celebrated Ancient Greek playwright’s, Sophocles, and dates all the way back to roughly 441BC. It tells the story of a city torn apart by the civil war of two brothers, Eteocles and Polynieces, and the aftermath that ensues when the new ruler, Creon, refuses to bury the body of the latter for his traitorous crimes. Their sister, Antigone, wrought with grief over her brothers’ death, challenges Creon for the right to bury Polynieces, which sparks a furious act of rebellion that shakes the city of Thebes to its core.

This lyrical adaption, written by Brisbane-born Merlynn Tong is incredibly well structured and relevant to the modern day. It’s unbelievable to think, sometimes, how themes and arguments from over 2400 years ago still ring true in human society today. While at its core, the story presents the argument of an Ancient Theban teenager challenging the law in order to bury her brother, the underlying theme rests in standing up for what you believe to be righteous and fair (does anyone else see the ties to youth standing up to the Government for Climate Change??). The written word by Tong and the Direction from Travis Dowling work superbly together, bringing to the stage an immensely powerful 70-minutes of tragedy.

The show opens in song as Ismene (Shubshri Kandiah), the sister of the two slain brothers, and Antigone, sets the scene of the battle that has just taken place – and my word, what a voice it was. Kandiah’s voice was powerful and beautiful and left chills running all the way down my spine. This was only the beginning too. As the play progressed, Kandiah sang a number of operatic scene-setters and honestly has one of the most incredible voices I’ve heard in theatre. It came as no surprise when I uncovered that Kandiah also played the role of Princess Jasmine in the Australian production of Disney’s Aladdin. A role, might I add, that was her first gig after graduating university – that’s how good she is.

More famously known for her roles in television (like Home and Away for example, for which she received a Logie Award Nomination), the titular role of Antigone is played by Jessica Tovey. The strength of Tovey’s performance was the highlight of the show and she must be commended in the highest regards. The heartbreak and pain of her character was delivered from every inch of her body and resonated throughout the theatre. Every movement and line was delivered with purpose and no single element of her performance felt out of place.

Son of Creon and love interest of Antigone, Haemon (Kevin Spink) finds himself between a rock and a hard place, having to choose where his loyalties lie and also stand up for what he believes in. Spink too, delivered a fantastic performance and truly enveloped the role in which he was cast. You could see the cogs turning in his head as he tried to make his mother see reason in not punishing Antigone and the slow growth of anger in his character boiled out beautifully.

In comparison to these three powerful performances, the directing and/or casting choice of Creon, played by Christen O’Leary, felt a touch softer. Perhaps it was the choices of characterisation, but I struggled to see Creon as being a ruler and the character lacked the same depth that was written and delivered through Ismene, Antigone and Haemon. In saying that though, Creon’s final scene, where she is faced with the consequences of her actions, is delivered with immense passion and strength and frankly, is one of the most powerful scenes of the whole play. If this characterisation had flown through the entire performance, I would have been completely sold, but alas, I am left a little bit confused by the character.

Dark and powerful, Queensland Theatre’s Antigone is an absolute must see.

Image Credit: Dylan Evans

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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