(Natalie Haynes’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/27.)
It is a vintage time for those of us who like our theatre with multiple murders, suicides and the occasional enucleation. Greek tragedy is everywhere: in the last few months, Medea has ravaged the National Theatre, Electra has filled the Old Vic; the RSC will be producing Hecuba (the most popular Greek tragedy in Shakespeare’s time) later this year, and a condensed Oresteia will be at the Globe in September. But perhaps the most intriguing tragedy of them all is about to open at the Barbican, with Ivo van Hove directing Juliette Binoche in a new translation by Anne Carson of Sophocles’s Antigone, a play about a sister who values her dead brothers more than her life.
Antigone is the older daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta. A child cursed by her bloodline, she is both daughter and sister to Oedipus, daughter and granddaughter to Jocasta. Oedipus curses his offspring at the end of Oedipus the King. But he scarcely needs to bother – the curse is already flowing through all four of his children. His two sons grow up, expected to share the task of ruling Thebes. But they cannot: one brother refuses to give up the crown, the other masses a foreign army and declares war on his own city. They kill each other in single combat, leaving their uncle, Creon (Jocasta’s brother), to take over as king. This is where Sophocles’s play begins.