Antigone in its classical form can be a difficult play, but this rewriting of the ensemble piece is full of humanity. Twice removed from the original, Gadwill Odhiambo’s reinterpretation is based on Jean Anouilh’s 1944 update of the ancient Sophocles play, which was considered a critique of the French Vichy government.

Photos By Philip Mwangi

Co-directed by Stuart Nash and Wakio Mzenge this brave play is very much it’s own show. Chosen to align with International Women’s Day, the script uses the bare bones of the original plot to tackle the grand themes of morality, destiny, civil disobedience, loyalty, authority and gender. The dialogue is modern, using English, Swahili and even Sheng, and is set in the Nairobi State House, making the play very relatable to contemporary audiences.

The play is self-regarding, with a hardened Narrator, played by Dru Muthure, speaking of the actors, highlighting that we are watching a play, and introducing the characters to us, with some cynicism. He gives us the backstory of the drama, as much of it has taken place before we enter the story, and elucidates key moments in the play. The strong cast of actors take us into their stories and we become riveted by the emotional drama, by their conflict of the need to maintain order in chaos versus upholding morality and doing what is right.

In the backstory, we learn that Koron’s deceased brother King Idipo’s sons and inheritors, Polycarp and Eugene, have killed one another in a battle for supremacy and control of the country. The brother deemed the “bad one” is denied burial, prohibited by presidential decree.

The set deserves mention here. The Kenyan flag hangs over a nearly bare stage, with graffiti covered walls, intimating the recent political turmoil of the state as the brothers battled for supremacy.

Their sister Antigone, powerfully played by Lorna Lemi, represents the archetype of oppressed women in this writing. She defies the decree, following her strong moral code to bury her brother. She cries that if she were a man she would be allowed to be a hero.

As a woman, she is expected to step back, be obedient and toe the party line.

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The rewriting of ruler/King Creon as female President Koron, trying to stabilise Kenya during nationwide unrest following a disputed election, adds further dimension to the character conflicted by the parameters of duty versus familial love. She is also Antigone’s aunt.

The subsequent rise of Koron, and her conflict with the strong Antigone, who puts filial duty above obedience to both her aunt and the state, speaks to feminism and the conflicts within it. Other strong female roles, including Antigone’s more shallow sister Semene (played by Faith Kibathi) and Scarlet Sake as the sisters’ convincingly concerned guardian Auntie, who will surely remind many Kenyans of their own aunties, again highlight the strong and important roles of women in society.

The entire cast of Antigone is strong. As well as the leads, the hugely comic Guard(Cosmos Kirui) had the audience laughing aloud at his parody, while we were still agonising with Antigone and her family.

Laced with humour and political commentary, the tragedy is all the more real. Because as the Narrator tells us, drama is ordinary, whereas tragedy is noble.

By Sarah Luddy