Updated Antigone turns Greek tragedy into a political thriller
Christopher Eccleston is outstanding in this topical tale of state power and civil disobedience
What you need to know
The Ancient Greek playwright Sophocles wrote his tragedy Antigone around 441 BC. The National Theatre's current production is directed by Polly Findlay and based on a new translation of the play by Don Taylor.
The plot focuses on Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, who has come to power after a bloody civil war. Desperate to assert his authority over the city, he refuses to bury the body of his niece Antigone's rebellious brother. When she defies him, Creon condemns her to be buried alive.
The production stars Christopher Eccleston, best known for a brief stint in the revived Doctor Who TV series, as Creon. Jodie Whittaker (who appeared opposite Peter O'Toole in Venus) plays Antigone.
What the critics like
The NT's cracking version of Antigone seems as gripping and topical as anything on the London stage, says Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph. Polly Findlay's powerful production of Don Taylor's punchy translation updates Thebes to a European police state in the 1970s, brilliantly realised in Soutra Gilmour's design. Sophocles's intricate plotting and emotional depth in a play 90 minutes long is a "lesson to today's windier dramatists".
This is perhaps the greatest play ever written about the tension between political and personal values, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. Christopher Eccleston's outstanding Creon, a charismatic patriarch who naively trusts in the invulnerability of power, is "the play's tragic centre", while Jodie Whittaker gives "a wonderfully single-minded performance" as the dogged Antigone. The production superbly represents "a world of self-regarding power that falls apart through its neglect of instinctive human feeling".
This 21st century interpretation burns particularly hard into our age, says Libby Purves in The Times. In an era of Gaddafi and Assad, tyrants have suits and ties and CCTV and look very much like our own leaders. Whittaker is a passionate Antigone, but Eccleston gives the most gripping performance. His descent into vulnerability and madness "rings chill round the great auditorium".
What they don't like
Don Taylor's translation, "a mix of fluid modern idiom and stentorian excess", sometimes diminishes the emotional complexity of the original text, says Henry Hitchins in The Evening Standard. Even so, "the production makes Sophocles's story of civil disobedience feel like a political thriller".
The Daily Mail's Quentin Letts thinks the play's shakiest aspect is "the jumble of regional aspects". Hearing Creon's Lancastrian "I am nuffink", he says, is jarring. ·