A haunting and contemporary retelling of the great Greek epic, ‘Antigone’ remains as relevant today as ever

Motley (Mumbai)

Great stories stay alive. Their power is their ability to stay relevant, despite a rapidly changing world. Antigone’s one such story. Watch it come alive once again, in all its glory, in the hands of some of India’s finest theatre artistes, as the MetroPlus Theatre Festival opens.

Written by Sophocles’ as far back as 442 BC, the story, in fact, was prompted by an even older Thebian legend. A tale of two brothers who fought a civil war, leading opposite sides. In Sophocles’ play, King Creon decrees that the rebel brother, Polynices’ body, should be left unburied on the battlefield, prey to animals, birds and insects, as punishment. Antigone, Creon’s niece and Polynices’ sister, defies him.

In 1942, Jean Anouilh revived the story yet again, this time weaving it around the conflict between Antigone and Creon, using the story as a metaphor of the politics of his age. Nazi forces had occupied France, and Antigone’s defiant clash with Creon represented the French resistance movement’s struggle against the forces of the Vichy government.

The story’s gripping at so many levels, and you can choose to dive into any, or all, layers. It’s a heartbreaking story of a sister standing up for her dead brother. It’s the story of the individual battling the establishment. In this version of Anouilh’s story, interpreted by Satyadev Dubey, there’s an emphasis on this essential conflict, amplified by two accomplished actors, Naseeruddin Shah playing Creon and Ratna Pathak Shah playing Antigone. Their nuanced performances, echoed by the haunting chorus — with Benjamin Gilani — make this contemporary production a rediscovery of very familiar characters. Especially because, in this story, there’s no black or white. Just fascinating variations of grey.

(Motley, which turns 30 this year, was formed by Naseeruddin Shah and Benjamin Gilani in 1979. The group has produced several short and full-length English plays, besides performing in Hindustani as well. They regularly tour the country and take their works abroad. ‘Antigone’ is their latest production.)

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