Yes, maybe no
The expectations were huge. It could not get bigger than this. There were legends involved — a Greek tragedy by Sophocles, adapted by Jean Anouilh, re-adapted by the immensely talented Satyadev Dubey, with an amazing cast. Did it live up to all the humungous expectations? A definite yes, but also a no. The play was scripted tautly, and the acting was amazing. The confrontation between Creon and Antigone left us gasping. The pace never slackened and the minimalist setting enhanced the sombre mood. For those of us who knew the play, either Sophocles’ play or Anouilh’s adaptation, there was a feeling of inevitability about the events spiralling towards the tragic end. For us, it was brilliant. There is, however, always a danger about staging a Greek tragedy, or even its adaptation triggered by a political event. There was for those who did not know the background, a feeling of disconnect. A Greek tragedy is larger than life, moves the audience along to the devastating end, duly involving all — players and audience alike — in its grand emotional catharsis. This was exactly what was missing in the play — the emotional connect. So Motley, thank you for the wonderful performances and the chance to see legends in action. I only wish it had left me wrung out dry.
‘Antigone’ portrayed complex thoughts and varied emotions through simple dialogue. So what if the storyline didn’t appeal to my teen sensibilities.
The drama, the action, the actors, the dialogue, the name Motley, and of course, that of director Satyadev Dubey made up for it. Not to mention the drama that was made out of what was essentially a mundane announcement about theatre etiquette.
Over all, an enrapturing show.
Nitin J. Krishnan
“Hey, that’s the actress who acts in ‘Sarabhai vs Sarabhai’”, was the first reaction from the bunch of teenagers sitting next to me at the play.
The celebrity actors might have brought the audience in but a brilliant play kept them all riveted. The actors’ histrionics, their rendition, and the music left a mark. But, how many noticed the subtle contemporisation of the sets and costumes that made one feel a part of the period in question but still at home with references to coffee and playing cards.
Staging an ancient play adapted twice over, once by Anouilh, and again by Dubey, at different periods in history, requires dealing with the layers of interpretation that each playwright in his context brings to the classic. To sift through the layers and still reach out to the audience requires genius.
The lighting was well-done and the production was simple. But sadly, it lacked a desi touch and humour.
S. Siddharth Samson
Choolaimedu High Road
‘Antigone’, has seen myriad stagings and continues to pose a challenge to theatre practitioners in their ability to satiate audiences’ appetite with new interpretations. Satyadev Dubey’s offering with a powerhouse cast of Naseeruddin (as Creon), Ratna (as Antigone) and based on Jean Anouilh’s adaptation of Sophocles’ Greek tragedy, falls short of expectations.
With the play stripped of important characters such as Creon’s son Haemon and his wife Eurydice, it was critical that Creon and Antigone captivate the audience with their conflict of principles between political compulsions and ideals of love and duty. It was also essential that the Storyteller (Sutradhar) played by Benjamin weave an enthralling tale. Having seen the fantastic chemistry between Naseer and Ratna in ‘Ismat Apa Ke Naam’ and ‘Dear Liar’ earlier, ‘Antigone’ disappoints. Was there not enough time to practise? The actors missed their cues and fluffed their lines on more than one occasion.
The storyteller’s narration, though lucid, was antiseptic and without passion. The play did have its riveting moments. But when you have a powerhouse of a cast and an all-time classic as the opening fare of the premier theatre festival in town, even very good becomes mediocre, if execution falls short.
Good in parts
What was important for the play was the context. You had to live in those times to gain the full grasp.
Benjamin Gilani’s introduction seemed necessary but still one couldn’t reconcile to his silence in many scenes. Was he watching the play? What was remarkable about Naseeruddin was his sense of gesture. There were only a few, a bit of yawning included. If he rendered the dialogue with a special power and was always intelligible, Ratna Pathak was a perfect match and always made her point. She was, one should remember, talking to “The King”. Then you had a bit of humour from the guards, just enough — a keen sense of proportion.
The sets were simple, yet elegant, allowing one to focus on the content and the performance. This is a kind of play where there are none of those fireworks and even small issues were discussed deeply throughout.
‘Antigone’ is a Greek tragedy that etches the deep predicament of a king long bound by duty yet battered by emotion.
Ratna, undisputedly, stole the show, while Naseer failed to stir emotion. Benjamin and the rest though adequate, were not impressive for a play of this order. The sets design was beautifully conceived with the lighting and the background music adding to the overall effect. But the costumes were unimaginative and fitted neither to the classic nor to the contemporary style. However, at the end of the play, the raised expectations were not satiated!
Reading Anouilh’s ‘Antigone’, one usually tends to miss the blind Tiresias who marked Sophocles’ original. But in Motley’s rendition, one does not feel this lack at all. The blind prophet is ably replaced by an overarching prophetic vision of doom that hangs heavily over the play itself.
For me, it was this that held the play together tautly, despite a tangled and prosaic discourse. If it is art’s duty to hold a mirror up to its viewers, ‘Antigone’ certainly did so with its cautious portrayal of the dilemma of leadership. ‘I am master under the law, not above the law,’ Creon declares self-righteously midway through the play. This self-same law that must balance individual justice and the greater good becomes the theme of Motley’s ‘Antigone’. Anouilh tends to be sparing with stage directions and all credit must go to director Dubey for his interpretation that lends fluidity to the dramatic action across various theatrical levels on a minimalist stage design. The visual is aesthetically held up with columns that play with light and stark colours. Ratna Pathak Shah as Antigone is remarkable in her portrayal of an essentially ambiguous character. Antigone has confused readers for centuries with her tendency to be both gentle and violent, but Shah’s rendition bears a translucence that makes these shifts both forgivable and credible. Yet, she is generous enough to play the occasional foil to Naseeruddin’s disarming portrayal of a smooth-talking Creon’s transformation into a broken man who must deal repeatedly with personal tragedy. No raised voices mark their anger and no melodrama aids their anguish. For all the actors, including a whimsical Benjamin Gilani as the chorus, a sense of the play’s own power seems to have provided the quiet confidence to underplay their roles. Anouilh’s adaptation seeks to make Greek tragedy accessible and ends with a post-modern notion of resignation, disaffection and the pain of continuity, represented by the three soldiers who continue to play cards despite the tragedy that has affected Thebes… and thus does Motley quietly hold up their mirror.
We saw superb acting by Naseeruddin and Ratna Pathak Shah. Overall the play was too serious, and the light moments occurred at the wrong time and place. The manner in which Antigone’s death was announced was an anti-climax.
Benjamin Gilani sets the tone for the play as he introduces the beer-downing guards, the stubborn Antigone and the equally stubborn but weary ruler Creon, and in instalments, illuminates us about melodrama and tragedy and fate and peace.
The play quickly transforms itself into a dialogue between Creon and Antigone about life and death and the futility of the choice one has to make. It is perhaps, a testimony to the deeply-embedded optimism of human nature that Antigone’s struggles, arguments and views though brilliantly portrayed by Ratna, seem a mite contrived after Naseeruddin logically destroys every possible reason she might have had in burying her brother against the law. Aided by a minimalist set, with no horrors of fancy lighting tricks, a brilliant sound system, and excellent enunciation skills, the play is as perfect as it can get, technique-wise.
A thought-provoking play, it leaves the audience to contemplate the eternal conflict between the pessimist and the optimist, the old and the young, the living and the dead and the unresolved question of whether to be or not to be.
Ratna Pathak Shah stole the show. She was simply fabulous, moving from a belligerent but duty-bound sister, a child with the nanny, to a triumphant miscreant facing her uncle. She goes through myriad emotions — grief, disgust, rebellion, loss and triumph.
Call it karma
To me, the play was more about karma, how one’s nature influences the way one acts, and how these actions, in relation to other people’s actions, have inevitable results. And yet, even foreknowledge of the consequences can sometimes do nothing to change one’s actions.
I watched Topol in his final performance as the Fiddler on the Roof as well as a couple of Broadway shows during a visit to the U.S. this summer. The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Fest gave me a feeling of continuity. Satyadev Dubey’s adaptation of the Greek classic, performed by Motley, was indeed a surprise package. I had not expected the breathtaking settings of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, but the stark simplicity of the backdrop enabled one to focus on the brilliant portrayals. Perhaps the background score could have been slightly more effective in filling the gaps and lightening the monotony between the conversations. The highlight of the play? Benjamin Gilani’s soliloquy on ‘Tragedy’.