Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
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by Sophocles, in a translation by C A Trypanis

National Theatre

Cottesloe Theatre, 17 May 1984

First stages as a workshop production in the Cottesloe, in repertoire between 13 October 1983 and 5 January 1984.

Length: about 1 hour. There is no interval.

change was in the air...

by Peter Stothard, Features Editor of The Times

Sophocles was fifty-five when he wrote Antigone in 441 BC. For the Athenian democracy it was a time of high expectation. The city had grown a great empire since the defeat of the Persian invader forty years before, and was now at the height of its expansive pride. As a symbol of imperial glory, the Parthenon was slowly taking shape on the Acropolis. Athens was even at peace with its most dangerous enemy, Sparta.

The pre-eminent Athenian of the time was Pericles, the architect of the city's radical political and military stance. He had just succeeded in despatching his chief conservative opponent into exile. Like Sophocles he was in his mid-fifties. Of the other best known Athenian personalities, the playwright Euripides, Sophocles' younger and more iconoclastic rival, was in his early forties. Socrates was in his twenties and just beginning his career as a radical teacher. Aristophanes, the comic poet who was later to mount a conservative backlash against the democratic extremists, was still a young man. So too was Thucydides, the historian who was to chart the disastrous end of Athens' imperial ambitions. In 441 BC power was at the Athenians' command but restless intellectual change was in the air.

For Sophocles the composition of Antigone came at the mid point of an increasingly prolific creative life. Behind him were some thirty plays; ahead of him a further ninety. He was not born into the top rank of society. His father was a businessman in the weapons trade. But as a sixteen-year-old lyre player Sophocles had been chosen to lead the city's paean of praise for the Persian defeat at Salamis. Success continued. At the age of twenty-eight he defeated Aeschylus — the father of Athenian tragedy — in the annual competitive festival of Dionysus. In 442 BC he served as an imperial treasurer; by the time of his middle age he seems to have been on easy terms with the political leaders of the day.

Out of Sophocles' vast dramatic output only seven complete plays have survived. Formidable obstacles stood between the text which the ancient playwright gave to his actors and the manuscripts of the Middle Ages on which our present editions and translations are based. In the first hundred years the plays were subject to excisions and interpolations by their performers. Only in about 330 BC were fixed texts for the plays set down in Athens. By the time that Alexander the Great and his successors took over Greece there were still more than one-hundred-and-twenty plays by Sophocles available for editing by the skilled librarians of Alexandria. Subsequently, however, in the violence and decline of learning that occurred in the Roman period and beyond, almost all were lost.

Of the seven that lasted the course, Antigone is one of the two earliest. It predates Oedipus the King, the first play of the Theban cycle, by ten years, and Oedipus at Colonus, the play which deals with events immediately preceding Antigone, by some thirty-five years. The other survivors are Ajax, The Women of Trachis, Electra, and Philoctetes. It is possible that Sophocles was one of those artists whose work improved

consistently with age and that we are fortunate to have what is predominantly late work. It is also possible that we do not have the work judged by his Greek critics to be his best but merely the plays which whim, chance and demands dictated to us.

It is not difficult to see, however, why Antigone might have survived while other papyri crumbled to dust. Its theme is an accessible and eternal one. Should citizens follow their consciences or the laws of the state? Can the rule of law be truly legitimate if it flies in the face of the traditional bonds that hold the state together? Sophocles' Antigone is the only Greek tragedy to pose at its centre a moral and political problem that has meaning for every age, place and people.

Antigone is a play of ideas. Probably the most important single fact about the years of Pericles and mounting Athenian power is the novelty of political and philosophical ideas, their pervasiveness throughout all levels of the new democratic society, the freedom for all citizens to express them and for all citizens to share in the actions that led from them.

This 'polis' or city state grew up in Athens as a reaction to the more common military rule by single men or groups of men in the rest of Greece. In Athens all male citizens could attend the open air assembly to speak and vote directly on the great issues of peace and war. Nearly all public officials, including the 500-man council which ran the day-today business of the city, were chosen by lot. A very large number of Athenians thus had direct experience of government.

Sophocles himself was a man of politics and war as well as poetry and plays. There is even a story that he was given the job of general, one of the most important offices of state, on the strength of his success with Antigone.

Sophocles chose the story of Antigone from a comparatively obscure version of events in the gory history of the royal house of Thebes. The death of Oedipus, who killed his father Laius and married his mother Jocasta in unwitting fulfilment of Apollo's prophecy, was followed by a struggle between his sons Eteocles and Polyneices for the succession. It was originally agreed that they should govern turn and turn about, but Eteocles, the elder, refused to relinquish his rule and drove his brother into exile. Polyneices raised an army in Argos and returned to lay siege to Thebes and take his birthright by force. In the final encounter of the battle, each brother took the other's life.

Power then fell to Creon, brother to Jocasta, who became king and ordered Eteocles to be given an honourable burial. According to Greek belief, the act of burial was necessary for entry into the next world and, according to Greek custom, it was granted on the battlefield to the bodies of even the bitterest enemies. For Polyneices, however, Creon orders no burial and the Greek equivalent of eternal damnation.

This is the point at which the play begins.

Antigone Jane Lapotaire
Ismene Vivienne Ritchie
Creon Peter Sproule
Guard Ron Pember
Haemon Guy Williams
Teiresias John Bailey
Boy Timothy Stark
Guard Vincenzo Nicoli
Eurydice Janet Whiteside
Guard Richard Perkins
Paul Tomany
Chorus Kevin Costello
Peter Dineen
Anthony Douse
Robert Hamilton
James Hayes
Alan Haywood
Basil Henson
Robert Hickson
Brian Kent
Tom Marshall
Franc Morgan
Peter Needham
Ralph Nossek
Harry Perscy
Musicians Michael Brain
Timothy Caister
Directors John Burgess
Peter Gill
Designer Alison Chitty
Lighting Stephen Wentworth
Music Terry Davies
Production Manager Jason Barnes
Stage Manager Ernest Hall
Deputy Stage Manager Angela Bissett
Assistant Stage Managers Judith Garrett
Tony Godel
Sound Caz Appleton
Assistant Production Manager Jem Wilsher
Photography Nobby Clark

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