Regent’s Park Open Air theatre, London
Until September 24
Timothy Sheader, the artistic director of Regent’s Park Open Air theatre in London, uncannily anticipated the mood of the nation when he scheduled Inua Ellams’ adaptation of Antigone as the final production of his summer season. The venue is traditionally a place of musicals, comedies – and certainly for me – copious quantities of rosé wine, but this is a sober and sombre piece that shows it is not a venue ever to underestimate.
Too seldom has the theatre world acknowledged that the tectonic plates in our country are now shifting, and not for the better, but this amounts to a full-on assault on our politics, our values and the dystopia we are beginning to regard as normal. Ellams has created something that stands comparison to the state-of-the-nation plays David Hare had staged at the National in the 1980s and 90s.
Creon has been turned into a Muslim career politician – well played by Tony Jayawardena – who ruthlessly turns on members of his own faith when his Dominic Cummings-like adviser Aleksy (Sandy Grierson) tells him there are votes to be had in it. The great Zainab Hasan stands up for decency in the title role and courageously challenges her father. There are some memorable performances along the way from Pandora Colin as Creon’s cool and calculating wife and Susan Lawson-Reynolds as a Cressida Dick-like police commissioner.
Max Webster and Jo Tyabji direct with real flair and purpose and it is exhilarating the way – with his choreographer Carrie-Anne Ingrouille – he uses dance and movement to illuminate the story. Top marks to the youthful scene-stealer Mervin Noronha who combines the roles of Eteocles and the Dance Captain.
Ellams just occasionally seems to be trying to cram too much contemporary resonance into Sophocles’ fifth-century BC tale, then again he makes the point eloquently enough that the more things change in politics, the more they stay the same.