Robyn Sassen’s Review of ‘Just Antigone’

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Nyakallo Motloung as Antigone. Photograph by Sabelo Ndumo. 

On the 18th of February, honored theatre critic Robyn Sassen wrote the following review about ‘Just Antigone’. For the original article, please click this link:  https://robynsassenmyview.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/electric-mix-of-frisky-youth-ancient-tragedy/

“Taking on Sophocles with electric abandon might not be the dream of just any drama graduate. The material is difficult, linguistically, morally and chronologically. The language is complex and bloody and some of the issues it embraces are impossible to get your head around without your heart (or belly) wanting to explode. But clearly none of this has daunted the young cast of seven – some of them in their professional debuts – in this absolutely astonishing work, which immediately raises the bar for theatre of this nature.

Just Antigone clocks in at under an hour, but the mesmerising focus and the sophisticated balance between contemporary gestures, asides to the audience and the horror of the moral double crossing of the original  plunges you into not only the internecine and devilish politics of ancient Greece, but also the tragedy of human frailty in the sight of ambition, power and one-upmanship.

The cast switch and change roles and genders as the generational tale, replete with the interjections of a chorus, unfurls, and the context of Oedipus, the father of Antigone, who tragically lands up killing his father and marrying his mother, is described with clarity, levity and wit, which never teeters into disrespect for the tradition or the circumstances. There is a resonance in this work with the meshed cultural texture that Neil Coppen achieved in his recent production of Animal Farm, blending time and idiosyncrasy in a way that hones the legibility of difficult material, but Just Antigone slips in and out of contemporary political phraseology and reference. It doesn’t hurt the work. It keeps you engaged.

Antigone (Nyakallo Motloung) is a loyal sister and a feisty challenge to her egotist uncle King Creon (Jóvan Muthray), who is at times so wrapped up in his own sense of authority that he becomes emotionally blind and quite frightening. Muthray’s delivery of this role is polished and convincing. And opposite him, Motloung is articulate and passionate. There’s a balance achieved here which is so fine and so much about trust and a sense of artistic authority that it takes your breath away.

In many respects, the unequivocal star of this work is Mlindeli Zondi – who you may have seen in Making Mandela – as the hapless Haemon, son of Creon and lover of Antigone. Torn between loyalty to his father and an understanding of his father’s deep moral flaws, not to mention his love for his girl who has dared to challenge Creon, he is left no alternative but to die at his own hand. The emotional and spiritual torsion central to this character is articulated with a great sense of finesse, never overacting, but oft overarching as a profound and intelligent catalyst to the tale.

But it hardly seems fair to isolate only three performers. The full ensemble feels dangerously beautiful in its concatenation of text, gesture and sinister nuance. Individually and collectively, they rise and soar with one another, dancing on the edge of the scripted text and expressing horror and catastrophe as they intermingle and dovetail. It’s a beautifully directed piece of work, and while the screaming which is necessary in the tale fills POPArts’s smallish tight space with harsh metallic fierceness, that might make you want to flee, the cast engages with the monumental reality of performing something as old as Sophocles with thoughtful wisdom.

Neither paralysed with respect, nor awash with hipness, under the directorial hand of Mahlatsi Mongonyana and Billy Langa, the cast offer Sophocles’s words, thoughts and reflections – and his indictments cast on the immorality and filth of society – in a palatable and fine context that is accessible and provocative, making you realise there is nothing quite as fine as a spot of Greek tragedy in central Johannesburg on a week night.

Arguably, this company of performers has what it takes to develop into the kind of repertory theatre that is capable of defining the industry. Watch each of these names: they have a great future ahead of them”.

  • Just Antigone is adapted from Sophocles’s Antigone by Mahlatsi Mokgonyana and directed by Mokgonyana and Billy Langa. It is performed by Binnie Christie, Sanelisiwe Jobodwana, Campbell Jessica Meas, Nyakallo Motloung, Jovan Muthray, Star Tlali and Mlindeli Zoni at POP Arts Theatre in central Johannesburg until February 21. Visit popartcentre.co.za

Thank you Robyn for this tremendous review!

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Informal Review of ‘Just Antigone’ by Gita Pather

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On the 20th of February 2016, Director of the Wits Theatre, Gita Pather, wrote the following comments about ‘Just Antigone’ on her Facebook:

“Last night after a particularly long hard week, I went to the lovely Hayleigh Evans’ PopArt to watch Just Antigone directed by Mahlatsi DBoy Mokgonyana and Billy Edward with Mlindeli Emmanuel Zondi, Jovan Muthray, Campbell Jessica Meas, Binnie Christie and two other phenomenal actresses.

It was a triumph that few directors could match. The directors first coup is their ability to cut to the bone of a convoluted classic that is premised on the idea that the audience are familiar with the preceding context provided in Oedipus and present a pared down text interspersed with a contemporary hip version of the Greek chorus. It is one that takes “selfies” injecting a physicality that is so uniquely South African into Sophocles much loved Antigone.

But thankfully, it’s not some superficial “tricksy, cute, being hip injection” that I have seen so often in classic plays as directors attempt superficially to make the work more accessible to a young audience.

It brings a pace to the play and Yet nothing of the beauty of verse and language is sacrificed and all of the six strong cast handle the original text with a delicacy that belies their youth and is a testimony to the process driven, body and text centred performance approach of Billy and Mahlatsi. There were standout performances and in particular : Jovan, Mli and the young woman who played Antigone whose name I know but which escapes this rapidly aging mind although a Programme may have helped. She is outstanding… She brought a sensibility to her Antigone that was masterful. Mli who plays Creon’s son is a marvel, an actor whose very body seems to arch over the stage with a palpable intensity that was riveting to watch. In contrast, Jovan’s languid, slighting sneering Creon’s was an equal delight. During the play, a cell phone went off and not missing a beat, he swung his considerable energy into a wonderful swipe at the offending audience member to great humorous effect. All three of these young actors are talents to watch and as the play unfolded, I could only marvel at this wonderfully crafted play that could only happen in South Africa because it embodies a style and a physicality that is so distinctive. The directors In particular are going places …. They already have an impressive credit list and could teach many a seasoned director a thing or two about great ensemble work.

All in all a fabulous evening concluded with a handshake and understanding that Antigone will come to the 969 festival as my opening performance. Well done to the directors and cast. So buy a ticket now …. Two more performances today and tomorrow”

The Movement RSA thanks Gita for her kind words, and invitation to be the Opening Act of the 969 Festival!