Oedipus & Antigone at Cotswold Playhouse, Stroud

For the first time in ages I went to my local theatre in Stroud tonight to see a double bill of gloom and distruction that is Sophocles, two plays Oedipus and Antigone.

I’d forgotten how immensely powerful these plays are (no, hadn’t forgotten, just hadn’t thought about it for a while) and how remarkable it is that issues that concerned Ancient Greeks at the dawn of democracy are so strongly relevant now. Pride, corruption, nepotism, poor judgement, inability to admit mistakes, inability to see what is obvious, or to ask the correct questions- does it all sound somewhat familiar? Of course! And even the public “outing” of characters, as if in the modern media, paparazzi waiting to snap the fall from grace, is all there.

The use of the chorus, the Greek trope, as the ever watchful, mindful, “everyman” on stage, surrounding the main characters as they play out their self destruction, was very effective- you felt palpably the menace of the people, the way they could be manipulated and swayed by whoever at a certain moment made a strong point- and by being ever vigilant, they could observe every nuance, every moment of undoing.

The downside to this production is that one never felt this was relevant to today. I heard people talking about how the story line doesn’t really apply to modern life- that the Greeks were all about not escaping Fate, but in so many ways it does. In many ways I could see the direct link to Shakespearean tragedies, where the flawed character leads inevitably to self destruction. But these plays discuss the issues that we see every day in our politicians and decisionmakers, our FIFAs and Volkswagens, the civil wars that rip countries apart, the ebolas and famines, the floods and hurricanes….

Had the production moved away from the pseudo- ancient Greek (as in my old Ladybird books of the 1970s) costumes, with nasty glittery nylon trim…. the irritating constant rattling of tambourines (presumably to indicate danger- like rattlesnakes?) the plastic tin whistles and, to my mind, hippy Tibetan singing bowls, the production would have been far more hard hitting and a commentary on democracy, society and its mores.

The writer feels it’s essential that we ensure that plays such as these, which can seem distant and irrelevant, and for many people, will bring back memories of dry classical studies at school, are directed so that audiences can really appreciate them. I’m not convinced this production really achieved that, although not through lack of effort.

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