By Amber Williams
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 9 of VARSITY News.
Antigone (not quite, quiet) directed by Mark Fleishman forms part of a five-year series research project on Re-imagining Tragedy from Africa and the Global South (RETAGS). Led by a stellar cast of 14 performers who transcend age, gender and race, the play exposes the topics of escaping our colonial history, challenging those in power and the role youth play in having a voice to protest against the state which tries to silence them. The first production in a series of four between UCT’S Centre for Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies and the Magnet Theatre, the production is running at the Baxter Theatre until Saturday, the 28 September.
A three-part play set in post-1994 South Africa, it explores the aftermath of tragedy in a postcolonial society where race, class and gender division is still a strong ominous presence. Sophocles’ original production depicts the character of Antigone, a womxn who dares to speak out against the state and is as a result, quieted. But the play is anything but quiet. Nor is it entirely faithful to the original production. Antigone, through her complex and multi-faceted characterisation is a symbol of resistance to the rules set by the state in favour of personal autonomy. Her complex portrayal points to the social character of a society dealing with criminality and impunity, the black hole of denial, and the curse of repetition as we come to terms with the effects of generational trauma in our postcolonial world.
“…despite lofty ambitions of reconciliation and social cohesion, or our deepest, darkest desires to be rid of each other, we are stuck together…we are uncomfortable and angry and ashamed, with no alternatives but to carry on together.”
Through the cast of 13 performers who deliver her message in a range of dialects – Antigone speaks, screams and laments the trauma and tragedies that our society has inherited from a past as we struggle to find common ground. As Fleishmann elaborates in his director’s note “…despite lofty ambitions of reconciliation and social cohesion, or our deepest, darkest desires to be rid of each other, we are stuck together…we are uncomfortable and angry and ashamed, with no alternatives but to carry on together.”
Towards the end of the production, Tiresias, the Seer delivers a speech and recites SEK Mqhayi’s poem, Mbambushe –Lwaganda’s favourite dog as images of climate change, the Marikana Massacre, the recent Gender-Based Violence protests and other issues that concern our society are put on display. The cast has been busy with rehearsals at a time when escalating gender-based violence and femicide have shaken the national psyche, making the tragedies addressed in the play all the more real and cutting in its delivery and execution.
The play forces the audience to engage in ways more intellectual than emotional. Staging is austere and the use of props, minimal. Often times the barrier between performer and audience is broken as Ismene, Antigone’s antithesis in her complacency to the state, confronts and questions the audience through her tragic sense of humour and pitiful lamentation. The first act is slow and drawn out- perhaps purposefully so- and the elaborate scheme of the play is only revealed later on when Antigone protests against the tragedies of our immediate world.
The production, through its chilling and bare-boned approach, holds an effective mirror up to our own human condition. Its image is confrontational because you are it and you can see aspects of yourself, your own human condition, entwined in the imagining of the play. This adaptation is not for the faint of heart or for those who would prefer to ignore the truths and ugly tragedies of our world and immediate society.