Arts / Ancient tragedy gets a sharp, new edge

Actor William Zappa, who plays King Creon, in  “Antigone”... "Close your eyes and you'll think of Aleppo and drones.”

Actor William Zappa, who plays King Creon, in  “Antigone”… “Close your eyes and you’ll think of Aleppo and drones.”

THE coming production of Sophocles’ “Antigone” theatre is as up-to-date as a play could be.

“It’s a play about a civil law, you just have to turn on your radios and you’re confronted with that,” says actor William Zappa, who plays King Creon, “the primary example is Syria and it’s awful”.

Discerning “CityNews” readers will by now have spotted that this is our second story about “Antigone” in so many months – recently Canberra Youth Theatre presented an ensemble interpretation of the play.

Now, in Sport for Jove’s professional production co-directed by Damien Ryan and Terry Karabelas, we’ll see actors including Zappa, Andrea Demetriades and Anna Volska playing out the ancient tragedy with a sharp, new edge.

It may be an ancient Greek story but the basic plot element, which involves the king’s refusal to give formal burial to the body of his traitor nephew Polyneices, has contemporary parallels.

“Damien says that with the Boston Bomber, nobody would accept his body for burial,” Zappa tells us, “it got shunted around to over 50 cemeteries before he was buried in an unmarked grave.”

As well, the fact that neither of the two rival Theban brothers, sons of Oedipus, want to give up power has political parallels.

But what is less common, is the fierce morality of the central character Antigone, who defies her uncle, the king, to give her brother three last rites, honouring both the gods and her own sense of integrity.

Above all, “Antigone”, he says is about morality – what honour do we owe to our enemies? As the directors say, “her excess of feeling and fundamentalist zeal are hard to reconcile in a world crying out for unity, order and the rule of law in a time of chaos.”

The play presents a conflict between individual conscience and the law of the state, not between right and wrong. It reminds Zappa of the debate about same-sex marriage – “there is a question of individual conscience, but then the desire of the government to control the outcome.”

The directors’ say the king “selflessly places his state above the welfare of his family, pursuing a principle with the sort of consistency of will that we cry out for in politicians who so often stand for nothing.”
Zappa is relishing the fantastic speechmaking in his role, saying, “it’s wonderful to think that Sophocles puts words into the mouths of his characters without being boring or didactic.”

Some of those speeches remind him of President Erdoğan, of Turkey, occasionally declaiming from the top of a bus – “I watched a few videos in preparing for the role,” he says.

Human passion is also part of the play and Zappa has two fiery scenes, one a huge argument with Antigone on the subject of justice and the other with his son Haemon about the opportunities for young people.

Zappa, no slouch when it comes to ancient Greek matters, having adapted the entire “Iliad” for a one-man show, praises Ryan’s approach to the Sophocles – “it’s thoroughly contemporary,” he says, “close your eyes and you’ll think of Aleppo and drones.”

“Antigone”, at The Playhouse, October 27–29, bookings to or 6275 2700.

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