The sad story of a rebel

Published September 16, 2022
A COUPLE of scenes from the play.—Fahim Siddiqi White Star
A COUPLE of scenes from the play.—Fahim Siddiqi White Star

KARACHI: The most timeless and creatively attractive aspect of Sophocles’ play Antigone is its humanistic psychology that entails many a lesson. Here are a few examples where recently the tragedy was, or has been, put to good use.

Kamila Shamsie’s last novel Home Fire (2017) is a contemporary version of the tale where faith, society and filial bond face up to each other. In 2015, the Oscar winning French actress Juliette Binoche essayed the role of Antigone at the Barbican, London in director Ivo van Hove’s rendering of the story. And this month (September 2022), the drama is being staged at Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre as poet and playwright Inua Ellams’ deals with its subject by focusing on the lives of Muslims living in Britain. This goes to show the unavoidable impact that Antigone has in terms of its message and the strength of its characters.

The National Academy of Performing Arts’ attempt at Sophocles’ creation, translated (from Jean Anouilh’s text) and directed by Khalid Ahmad, which had its media night on Wednesday, has approached the topic with the kind of simplicity laden with effusive dialogue that lends a single dimension to the plot.

The plot in a nutshell: the two sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polynices, after the demise of their father, kill each other. Their death allows their maternal uncle, Creon (Khalid Ahmad), to become king. Creon thinks of Polynices as a traitor and lauds Eteocles someone who was a friend of the state. This leads him to give Eteocles a state funeral whereas he doesn’t bury Polynices properly as punishment. Antigone (Maha Hasan) is the sister of the two dead brothers. She, despite her other sister Ismene’s (Raana Kazmi) pleading to act in conformist way, refuses to accept the king’s gesture of not permitting Polynices an honourable burial. Going against Creon’s command, she does something that invites his wrath.

A lot can be done with Antigone’s text; and a lot can the actors, who are playing the major roles, do to interpret the script. It is not just strong feminine resolve that makes Antigone do what she does.

The story is about state power versus human rights, about human beings treating other human beings with a gun-barrel vision, about preferring family to authority, about shunning love to fulfill an obligation … and the list goes on and on.

The sub-heading that the academy has given to the play is The story of a rebel princess. Sadly, in Napa’s take on the subject, the ‘rebel’ side of Antigone is heavily eclipsed by the argumentative facet of the character. A rebel carries fire within that can burn his or her soul. Instead, there appears to be aversion in Maha Hasan to the political goings-on.

Then Khalid Ahmad, who on Wednesday struggled with his lines on a few occasions, needs to unburden himself from wearing too many hats – after all, he also holds an important position at the academy. He is a good translator but needs to incorporate physicality into his scripts.

PS: Perhaps, it’s also time for Napa to leave its obsessions with ancient texts for a while and examine what’s happening in the contemporary world of theatre to attract younger audiences. One doesn’t have to spend money to do that; these days, the internet is doing wonders in helping art enthusiasts to keep abreast of the latest cultural happenings.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2022

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