Entertainment & Arts

Antigone: Four star reviews for Christopher Eccleston

Christopher Eccleston in Antigone
Image caption Eccleston performs the role in his native Lancashire accent (Photo: Johan Persson)

Christopher Eccleston has been praised for his "charismatic" and "intense" role in a modern makeover of Antigone.

The actor plays Creon, King of Thebes, in a new National Theatre production, which transports Sophocles' tragic Greek drama to a 1970s police state.

With echoes of the current situation in Syria, the Telegraph said the play was "as gripping and topical as anything on the London stage".

Eccleston had a "chilling authority" as Creon, added What's On Stage .

At the beginning of the play, he is seen watching a battle unfold on TV - a deliberate reference to President Obama observing the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound last year.

The city of Thebes survives the assault, and Creon decrees that the aggressor, Polyneices - who was killed, must rot in the streets.

Polyneices' sister, Antigone, defies the decree and sprinkles soil on his body in an act of burial.

Creon, her uncle, orders that she be buried alive, convinced that duty to the state outweighs family ties. His decree sets in motion a series of tragic deaths.

Image caption Eccleston stars alongside Jodie Whittaker, who plays the title role (Photo: Johan Persson)

Critics have been largely positive about Polly Findlay's production, with most reviews settling on a four-star rating.

"Christopher Eccleston's Creon is the modern, morally-ambivalent politician personified, full of bold conviction until he realises the implications of his dubious strategies," wrote Charles Spencer in the Telegraph.

The Guardian's Michael Billington added that Creon "is not evil but fatally in thrall, like many modern politicians, to the idea that authority is somehow inviolable".

He also highlighted Jodie Whittaker's "wonderfully single-minded" performance in the title role.

Other reviewers were less convinced by the actress, however.

"Her speeches feel oddly thin, lacking body, weak on words," wrote Aleks Sierz for The Arts Desk .

"When she tells her uncle to kill her, her gesture suggests a casual shrug rather than noble self-sacrifice."

Quentin Letts added in the Daily Mail : "Jodie Whittaker's Antigone did not strike me an immediately warm figure. She seems pinched, pulled in, her vocal tone mean.

"This increases the objectivity of the play but it perhaps robs us of a dollop of pathos."

The Evening Standard apportioned some of the blame to the script, originally produced for a BBC TV adaptation in the 1990s.

"Don Taylor's version of the text," noted Henry Hitchings , is "a mix of fluid modern idiom and stentorian excess" which often diminishes "the emotional complexity of the original".

Antigone runs until 21 July at the Olivier in the National Theatre.

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