Antigone: An Arabian Tragedy

Antigone: An Arabian Tragedy started out as two plays in a year-long project by One World Actors Centre (Kuwait) to produce Jean Anouilh’s Antigone in both English and Arabic. As the interpretations of the work progressed they took on separate identities - the English version was given an ancient setting during the Celtic rebellion in Roman-occupied Britain, while the tale in Arabic was placed in the modern Middle East. The decision was made to explore how they mirrored each other through combining the texts into a single bilingual play.

Antigone: An Arabian Tragedy is a theatrically and morally bold production.

Anouilh’s version of Antigone was written during the Nazi occupation of France. Set in that period, it creates the precedent for placing this Greek tragedy in an alternative context from the original, thus illustrating the timelessness of its themes.

Although set in two contrasting ages, its relevance to any time or place is ingeniously heightened by locating some characters in yet other settings and times. The classical chorus becomes a modern television news team, providing background to the crisis and relating the progress of events as the tragedy unfolds. Once it’s over they rapidly move on to the next big story, an implied criticism of media coverage of such events. There is a guard, an American soldier, who moves between the Arabian and Celtic settings but belongs to neither.

The production allows the mind to wander over a number of meanings. It provokes a range of questions not least concerning why the Arabic version sounds and looks far more aggressive than the Celtic one. For those musing on interpretations involving the Arab Spring, I am assured by cast members it has nothing to do with it. This play is less about specifics and more concerned with the overriding issue of an individual’s right to defy those in authority in the name of justice and in obedience to one’s beliefs and a higher power.

A cast of fourteen international actors from the Middle East present this adaptation which further enhances the universality of its message and here are strong performances all round. At times having two sets of conversations running together can be distracting and difficult to follow, but this does not occur throughout and it is fascinating at times to listen to one and look at the other. Antigone: An Arabian Tragedy is a theatrically and morally bold production that should provoke lively discussion in both areas.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

Division. Rebellion. Sacrifice. Justice. At the height of tyranny, one Arab woman stands up for justice, in a tale mirroring that of her Celtic counterpart 2000 years before. Fourteen International Actors from the Middle East present this unique adaptation of Anouilh's Antigone, a bilingual performance in both English and Arabic. This production is sponsored by Alghanim Industries, international purveyors of industrial excellence, and is the international premiere for the production.

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