You can plan a revival of a play that has some topical relevance but sometimes luck comes into it as well - Southwark Playhouse's current Antigone was announced long before the news of Osama Bin Laden's death, and in particular the unusual disposal of his body, came out. Add the fact that this production has been transferred to a Middle Eastern setting and a story that turns around what to do with the dead body of an enemy of the state becomes massively topical. Although Antigone is the title character, Kreon is really the centre of the story, as he decrees that Polyneikes should be denied burial. Eleanor Wyld's Antigone defies this and here presents herself very much as a new martyr and figurehead for dissent. It means there's more grey areas than usual in this play, she's not as clear-cut a victim and accordingly Jamie Glover's younger-than-usual Kreon isn't 100% villain either. He's still a figure of great hubris but in a strong central performance Glover makes him into an almost Shakespearean antihero constantly assailed by doubt.
The production uses Timberlake Wertenbaker's translation; I rather like her versions of Greek tragedy, the lines seem to flow very naturally in modern actors' voices while still feeling true to the spirit of the genre. With a surprisingly large cast at his disposal, director Tom Littler hasn't quite reinvented the Chorus in the way that Carrie Cracknell did last month but pitched them somewhere between a traditional Chorus (song, dance, sometimes speaking together as one entity) and dividing them up into individual characters (journalists, citizens, soldiers) who help tell the story. I was struck by Littler's attention to detail in creating this secondary cast out of the Chorus, although its more innovative uses are nearer the start, meaning that it feels as if the inventiveness tails off slightly as the show goes on. Also, some of the broader acting feels out of place in this relatively naturalistic production - some of it seems to be deliberate but now and then it's just plain overacting from some of the chorus members. Edward Petherbridge's appearance as Tiresias is all too brief but for the most part this is a very satisfying Antigone, a mix of old and new styles that sometimes jars but mostly works. Simon Kenny's set, Ben Cracknell's lighting and especially David Allen's music contribute to an atmospheric 90 minutes; so far this year Sophocles seems to be being pretty well-served in London.
Antigone by Sophocles in a version by Timberlake Wertenbaker is booking until the 18th of June at Southwark Playhouse.