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Russian speaking theatre company Xameleon Theatre presented a new production: ANTI GONE based on the modern adaptation of Sophocles' play Antigone by Russian playwright Evgeniya Palekhova. Written in 441 BC, Sophocles' play is one of the few masterpieces that have fascinated mankind for over two thousand years because of the eternal themes and questions that it raised. The tragedy is about the aftermath of fratricidal war in which the two sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polyneices, kill each other. The new king and their successor, their uncle Creon, tries to punish Polyneices for his disloyalty by issuing a law prohibiting citizens from burying him. In Sophocles' play Antigone disobeys her uncle Creon's law and buries her brother because in the beliefs of Ancient Greeks his soul would not find peace in the afterlife if he remains unburied. The subsequent conversation between Creon and Antigone becomes one of the most powerful scenes in the history of theatre as Antigone demonstrates so profoundly that she values the Divine law of the immortal gods so much that she is ready to lose her life in order to make sure that her brother doesn't suffer in the afterlife. Creon is blinded by his newly obtained power and orders to bury his beloved niece Antigone alive in a cave for disobeying the law he issued, although his law contradicts the unwritten law of the gods.

Director Ovlyakuli Khojakuli and set designer Maria Soshina create on the stage of Marylebone Theatre a strange world that has been torn apart by war. They clearly show us that the performance is about you and me as the camera projects the faces of the members of the audience onto the white screen stretched between two spears at the back of the stage. There is some earth thrown on the stage with which Antigone (Vlada Lemeshevskaya) buries her brother Polyneices, who is represented by a large doll. Creon (Oleg Sidorchik) cruelly unburies Polyneices and hangs him on the spears with his pants down and private parts visible to all the audience. At this very point numerous questions about the aesthetics and true meaning of the production begin to cross my mind. 

Creon takes a mobile phone and grins while taking selfies with the "corpse" and invites members of the audience on stage to be photographed together with his indecently dressed trophy. Yes, war is a cruel and inhuman business, this is clear.

The usage of a doll in a production where real actors perform always gives a hint that we are all God's puppets. In Lev Dodin's version of William Goulding's "Lord of the Flies" there was a costume of a dead pilot hanging like a real human at the back of the stage and it was also giving a sense that we are all vessels for God's spirit. The boys, performed by grown up actors, were killing each other throughout the production, but at the end the voice of a pilot from the speakers, as if God's voice, was asking them what was going on and a child's voice was responding that they were just playing. This was a shock and catharsis we needed in order to experience a profound realisation of self-destructive nature of mankind as opposed to God's will for each of us. 

There is no God or reflection on the subject of the Divine in Ovyakuli Khojakuli production. There are only two characters in the whole play - Antigone and Creon, and both of them equally do not believe in anything Divine. 

And another serious question arises: why Xameleon Theatre, which boasts of a large group of talented professional actors, who haven't been on stage for a very long time due to COVID, returns after the pandemic break with the play that features only two characters? Why not take the original Sophocles' play that has many great characters and give meaningful parts to each actor to keep their artistic spirit up and to achieve great creative results?... 

ANTI GONE is not about the Divine law that Antigone was so fearlessly protecting in the original play by Sophocles, but about the power and its opposition and whether or not it is worth it to oppose any power at all. At some point of the production Creon and Antigone even swap places in order for us to better realise how the twisted nature of the power affects a person.

The director clearly tends to demonstrate inhumanity of war using shocking language similar to the one in Alexei Balabanov's film Cargo 200, in which the captured girl drinks vodka out of a bottle in order to block herself out of the unbearable reality and her captor throws her dead groom into the bed with her. In Xameleon theatre's production Creon regularly drinks wine out of large flasks and at some point Antigone joins him drinking out of a modern wine bottle as her dead brother, represented by the doll, keeps hanging with his genitals exposed. 

Sexual theme takes different turns in the production. Antigone mentions listening during the nights to the screams of passion from her mother Iocasta and questions how she could not know that she married her own son Oedipus. Then we hear that Antigone's two brothers wanted to rape her and apparently she was saved by Creon. Creon recalls sexual activity with Polyneices while touching the exposed private parts of the doll representing his dead hephew and then demonstrates some sexual desire towards Antigone as he repeatedly plays with her bare foot… 

The main question that I had while watching this performance was: what has this all got to do with the timeless Sophocles' play and relationship between characters in it? In Sophocles' play Antigone loves her brother so much that she sacrifices her life in order to make sure that he doesn't suffer in the afterlife. The play itself is a perfect masterpiece about the Divine that is above any man-produced law, but this theme is not reflected in the production at all. We all know these days that the reality of war is horrendous, almost non-existent opposition can't stop real tyranny and the taste of power poisons the human soul. You can write a new play about it and call it something completely different if you can't explore these themes staging Sophocles' play as it is written. Why do you need to use the characters from the masterpiece that is incomparably deeper than Evgeniya Palekhova's confused and verbose play? In a way I feel for the versatile actor Oleg Sidorchik who throws a lot of passion into his portrayal of Creon, but he is not given proper dramatic material in order to create a convincing character. 

In fact the association with the great tragedy does not do a favour to the production because the original Sophocles' play is so much bigger than what has been produced. The questions that Sophocles raised almost two and a half thousand years ago are much more profound than the ones in its new "adaptation". You just need to read Sophocles' play with respect if not reverence and you will see that he was talking about the effects of tyranny and power on a human soul too, but he did so in a much more sophisticated way.

The reason I am writing this now is that I have just returned from Greece where once again I saw the magnificence of Ancient Greek Culture. Over the last two years I have visited Thebes, Corinth, Sparta, Olympia, Nemea, Argos and other historic sites where the action in Sophocles' tragedies takes place and saw the remains of ancient theatres in Epidaurus, Delphi, Lydia, Dion, Mycenae and Athens. Being there and feeling the energy of these places gives you the real sense of the presence of the Power that is Higher than you and you can't help but respect it.


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