Love affair with the classics

Antigone | Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
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The Independent Culture

Scottish theatre's millennial love affair with the classics continues, in this new adaptation from Sophocles by National Theatre writer-in-residence Sarah Woods. Produced by TAG Theatre Company, it forms part of their ambitious four-year "Making the Nation" project, aimed at "actively engaging young people in Scotland with the democratic process", against the backdrop of the new Parliament.

Scottish theatre's millennial love affair with the classics continues, in this new adaptation from Sophocles by National Theatre writer-in-residence Sarah Woods. Produced by TAG Theatre Company, it forms part of their ambitious four-year "Making the Nation" project, aimed at "actively engaging young people in Scotland with the democratic process", against the backdrop of the new Parliament.

Within these terms, Antigone is an exceedingly canny match of text with context, its young, passionately principled heroine, ready to die in defence of her cause, being an ideal figure through whom to draw a young audience into the timeless arguments enshrined in the play.

The show also boasts two outstanding central performances, from Molly Innes as Antigone and - especially - Matthew Zajac as Creon. As one friendless young woman taking on the might of the Theban state, it's fairly easy for Antigone to win our sympathy. Not that Innes relies on this, in an ardent but controlled, complex portrayal suggesting at least a hint of headstrong teenage rebellion fuelling Antigone's fire, while at the same time conveying an underlying air of calm, absolute certainty.

As Antigone's (supposedly) all-powerful opponent, though, Zajac has the harder job, not just in terms of his own role, but in fully activating the drama as a whole. Creon's arguments - about prioritising society's best interests over individuals', the need to uphold the law, or sometimes for moral pragmatism - are inherently impersonal, and so less readily attractive; Zajac has to strike a fine balance between depicting Creon as state authority personified, charged by the people with certain obligations as their ruler, and as a man who feels keenly the burden of that responsibility.

To get to the real meat of the drama, in other words, Antigone has to be given a run for her money, and this Zajac does in style, making the most of his resonant, musical voice to bring out his speeches' variously modulated rhythms, from implacable gravitas to raw urgency, counterweighing his character's charisma with just enough haunted vulnerability to inveigle our empathy. Empathy - or our fast-moving society's increasing discouragement of it - is a key issue in Woods' ambitious and, for the most part, skilfully executed treatment. Using precisely configured but robust language, she brings out not only the play's headline debate in vividly recognisable terms, but the grey areas in the characters' positions, while tracing a clear continuum between the personal and the political.

A periodic flurry of contemporary references in the Chorus soliloquys further highlights the parallels between then and now, although these passages elsewhere veer rather too far towards abstraction. The production overall, however, succeeds superbly in communicating that while the conflicting demands of the majority and the minority, or of perfect morality and real-life necessity, may never be resolved, it's vital they keep being argued - and also that there can be something irreducibly heroic about taking a stand for what you believe.

To 9 September (0141-429 0022), then touring until 28 October

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