Antigone & Lysistrata (play review) ★★★☆☆

This year’s famed Cambridge Greek Play was a double bill of Sophocles’ Antigone and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, which ran from 12/10 – 15/10.
Sophocles’ tragedy is a powerful tale of loyalty and familial bonds, and the difficult juxtaposition of the contemporary laws of the state versus those of the gods. It has remained popular, with its core themes still being somewhat resonant even to a modern audience. Furthermore, Antigone makes for a heart-wrenching and compelling heroine, one who would have provoked moral dilemma in the original audience. She follows contemporary code in her loyalty to the gods, shown in her determination to give her brother a proper burial (to enable him to pass through to the Underworld – unburied, he would have even left a restless soul in the Ancient Greek equivalent of purgatory). However, Creon is her guardian (the Greek work is kyrios) and her king, whose audit she should obey. Furthermore, Creon shows himself to be loyal to Thebes and the state in his refusal to bury her brother, and mak a strong stance of intolerance towards traitors to the city, a potent move as the newly crowned King. However, these actions on the part of Creon lead to the death of Antigone, Creon’s son and his wife. This tussle of loyalties and the unfortunate tragedies that follow make for a truly thought-provoking play.
However, this production of the play was frankly dire and provoked nothing in me but sheer boredom. The execution lacked imagination and the characters were barely two dimensional.There was little attempt at original interpretation, nor did they instead perform it in the traditional Ancient Greek style, which would have been a perfectly acceptable alternative. The only character that triggered any interest in me was Tiresias, the blind Theban prophet, who did come across as remarkably ominous and other-worldly; but he was the only glimmer of light that broke through its mediocrity. Overall, I was so bored that I strongly considered leaving in the interval, afraid that Lysistrata would be of a similar standard.
Luckily, Lysistrata was the light relief that the audience needed after the poor first half. This production was extravagant, ridiculous and played upon topical themes to generous applause. There were flying visits from both Boris Johnson and Donald Trump (in the case of the former, quite literally – will we ever stop referencing the zip wire incident?). Furthermore, Lysistrata’s wool metaphor was given further clarification through the medium of interpretive dance. There were explosions of confetti, and cast members rushed around the auditorium handing out badges depicting a cartoon of some sperm with a red line struck across it (a symbol of the women’s decision to deprive their men folk of sex until they agree to end the war). Seeing all this performed alongside Ancient Greek dialogue was quite something to behold.
Despite Lysistrata rejuvenating the mood of the audience after the mundanity of Antigone, I was very disappointed with this year’s Cambridge Greek play. Lysistrata felt like a necessary consolation prize in the light of Antigone’s awfulness. It seems a pity as the Cambridge Greek Play is only performed triennially – one hopes that the next production will show more originality. Sophocles deserved better.

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