There’s a tradition in Cambridge of putting on a production of an Ancient Greek play every three years – entirely in Ancient Greek (with English surtitles!). Expectations were running high this year when, after a phenomenal tragedy-comedy double bill three years ago (Prometheus Bound and The Frogs), the same production team returned for another double bill: Antigone and Lysistrata – a tragedy about a woman who defies the laws of her city (and her uncle Kreon, the king) to bury her dead brother, and a comedy about a woman who organises a sex-strike to put an end to wars between the Greek city-states. When I say expectations were running high, I mean that at the time of writing tickets were entirely sold out, though there may be returns for the last couple of shows on October 14th and 15th (check the theatre site) – but I also mean that I personally was looking forward to another incredible performance – the ‘Prometheus’ last time round in particular was hands down the best production of any ancient Greek play I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen quite a few. I’ve just got back after the show, and I can safely say I wasn’t disappointed – in fact I think this production may have been even better than the last one.
One of the most unusual, and most impressive, features of this production team’s work is the music – original scores specially composed for the performances, including background music and songs, so the Chorus’ odes and part of the actors’ lines are sung or chanted rather than spoken. For the Antigone, the music gives an incredibly powerful effect, especially in the way it highlights shifts in the emotional intensity of the characters’ dialogue as they move from speaking to singing. The actors’ performances were equally powerful – Antigone and Kreon’s performances were particularly impressive in showing how each of these opposing characters moves through a similar arc from stubbornly defending their own beliefs to their final despair (Antigone as she is led off to her death, Kreon on realising the fatal results of his own actions). The set design and costumes, featuring modern clothing (e.g. a Chorus in suits) and showing the aftermath of the war that precedes the action of the play through heaps of smouldering rubble, a barbed-wire fence, and guards in camoflauge, provided a suitably bleak backdrop. I don’t want to go into too many details about the Lysistrata, because of spoilers for those who haven’t yet seen it – but I can say that it was hilarious, featuring comic surtitles, plenty of song-and-dance routines, and (of course) suitably updated political references. If you’ve got tickets for the last few performances, you are definitely in for a treat – and if not, I’d really advise standing in line to see about returns. It’s already seeming hard to wait another three years for the next one!