Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

15/02/2007 - 18/02/2007

NZ Fringe Festival 2007

Production Details

Written by Jean Anouilh
Directed by Willem Wassenaar


“I want everything of life, I do; and I want it now! I want it total, complete: otherwise I reject it.” – Antigone

Award winning Almost A Bird Theatre Collective returns this year in the Fringe Festival with a production of Life as Antigone by French dramatist Jean Anouilh. Based on the Greek Classic by Sophocles, the young girl Antigone fights against the law and order of the King Creon.

This production showcases rebellion and truth in its most naked, raw and brutal form:  “I want everything of life, I do; and I want it now! I want it total, complete: otherwise I reject it.” Antigone (Fringe award winning actor Sophie Roberts) is not afraid, in fact determined to attack the authorities. With her strong will to make a change, she chooses to bury the body of her brother despite the restriction of her uncle Creon (Matt Whelan). This is her destiny, her faith and death is inevitable.

Almost A Bird delves into the territory of rebellion. Every day when we open the newspapers or watch television, we are being spoon fed with issues that should make us shake, move or act. But unlike the 1970s, we live in a world in which young people seem to have forgotten to rebel against and fight for something. But why should the young rebel if there is nothing to rebel against? Is this truly the sleeping generation, ignorant to what is happening in the world and not using the means to do something about it? Has rebellion become a fashion word owned by the corporate world and popular culture, and ruled by the air heads?

Director Willem Wassenaar (Delicates, The Glass Menagerie) is a 2006 graduate of the Master of Theatre Arts in Directing at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School and Victoria University of Wellington. He will be touring this production of Life as Antigone to the International Arts Festival Oerol in his home land The Netherlands with this cast of New Zealand actors later this year.

Chorus - Dan Musgrove
Chorus - Dan Musgrove
Antigone - Sophie Roberts
Nurse - Stephen Townsend
Ismene - Colleen Davis
Haemon - James Conway Law
Creon - Matt Whelan
First Guard (Jonas) - Stephen Townsend
Second Guard (a Corporal) - James Conway Law
Third Guard - Colleen Davis
Messenger - Colleen Davis

Set & costume design - Erin McNamara
Lighting design - Blair Ryan
Stage management - Max Hardy
Costume construction - Natasha Falconer & Erin McNamara
Publicist - Brianne Kerr
Publicity photos & design - Erin McNamara

Theatre ,

2 hrs, no interval.

Raw energy; fierce intensity

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 06th Mar 2007

Antigone by Jean Anouilh is staged at Te Whaea: NZ Dance and Drama Centre by director Willem Wassenaar and his group Almost A Bird Theatre Collective who were responsible for the highly successful shows Delicates and The Glass Menagerie last year. 

In a modern interpretation Wassenaar and his six actors bring Anouilh’s play into the intimacy of a modern in-the-round setting that heightens the tragic and brutal events surrounding Antigone and her family.  The two brothers of Antigone (Sophie Roberts) die fighting each other over who will be king.  Their uncle Creon (Matt Whelan) decrees that one will have a state burial the other left to rot.

This is not for Antigone who defies the authorities and buries her other brother.  This enrages Creon who condemns her to death even though she is to marry his son Haemon (James Conway Law). Antigone’s sister Ismene (Colleen Davis) eventually sides with Antigone but to no avail.  Each is torn between phial affection and duty with tragic consequences.  Very effectively narrating the proceedings as the Chorus is Dan Musgrove aided by Stephen Townsend. 

Tightly directed and very creatively staged the raw energy of the actors holds the play together with a fierce intensity. However the low key approach Roberts takes in her role as Antigone in the early stages of the play, apart from being very difficult to hear, nullifies the character’s inner strength but she comes into her own when faced with the power of Whelan’s Creon to make this a most satisfying production to watch.  


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Skill and passion

Review by Lynn Freeman 22nd Feb 2007

Antigone is the latest play from the Almost a Bird Collective, which produced the unforgettable The Glass Menagerie at Circa late last year. Willem Wassenaar is without question one of the most daring, most exciting directors in the Capital, the kind of director we need to get younger people into our theatres. 

Antigone’s decision to bury her brother knowing it will result in her death is the stuff of legend, but this production of Jean Anouilh’s script makes it a very human story. On one side, the powerful and persuasive voice of King Creon (Matt Whelan), on the other the irrational, hysterical but heartfelt decision by the young Antigone (Sophie Roberts) to knowingly choose death over life.

Even though she loves Haemon (James Conway Law), she comes to see only corruption ahead. The silent pianist Chorus, Dan Musgrove, with his charming smile, is at the same time chilling with his matter of fact narration. 

This is a story of death and sorrow, Antigone must die, hope has no part in tragedy.  The production style is gothic (apart from a touch of Monty Python with Stephen Townsend’s Nurse) and it fits the play like a glove.  The actors fulfil, with skill and passion, the director’s demanding expectations of them.  The production is heading to an international arts festival in The Netherlands in June. It deserves to be performed on the world stage.


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Compelling analysis of political power and resistance

Review by John Smythe 16th Feb 2007

If in the past you have seen a less-than-inspiring production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, adapted from the Sophocles classic, don’t be put off. Once again Willem Wassenaar’s Almost a Bird Collective – who established their reputation with Delicates and The Glass Menagerie – have found the dramatic heart of the work, revealing its timeless relevance in two hours of intensely focused insight, drama and humour.

Antigone, daughter of the late King Oedipus, defies her uncle Creon, the new King of Thebes, by trying to give her brother Polynices a decent religious burial. In a classic lose-lose scenario, Polynices (who turns out to have been not nice in many ways) and her other brother Eteocles, have both perishes in their fight over who should inherit the throne. In the process of asserting his power and status, Creon has decreed that Eteocles was the hero and Polynices the villain, but Antigone is not about to play the acquiescent little girl …

Anouilh was inspired to revisit Sophocles by one man’s solitary act of rebellion against collaborationists during the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1942: heroic yet futile and predictably fatal. Because the contemporary characters, their language, social context and a fair bit of verbal imagery make the play a clear critique of France’s Vichy government, Anouilh’s own act of rebellion was suppressed by the Nazis. But his Antigone did manage to premiere in Paris in 1944, a few months before France was liberated.

While Wassenaar and his team make no attempt to recontextualise the text, the authenticity of their intensely human behaviour immediately puts me in mind of the south sea activists refusing to acquiesce to Japan’s corrupt ‘scientific study’ rationale for killing whales. Everyone will recognise their own experience of resisting authority, be it for emotional, intellectual, political or spiritual ideals.

Dan Musgrove’s Chorus – wonderfully dispassionate in his delivery – leaves his soundless piano playing to tell us in no uncertain terms that the outcome of Antigone’s rebellion is inevitable. Simple touches like her silent bare feet compared with everyone else’s hard-soled shoes reinforce the idea that she’s already dead. What we are watching is the action replay of a fatal crash. And as with re-viewing any tragedy (the difference between tragedy and melodrama is clearly articulated), there are times when we hope that maybe this time destiny will somehow be cheated.

The absolute determination yet fatalistic resignation of Sophie Roberts’ Antigone command our respect, even when the cavernous Te Whaea theatre space swallows some of her more softly spoken words. Her fortitude cannot help but elicit a range of emotions in us as the ground shifts beneath her and our paradigms of perception change.

As Creon, Matt Whelan’s deconstruction of the art of political pragmatism, of meeting the demands of the power now thrust upon him, is riveting. It is because they are such worthy adversaries for each other that the scenes where he challenges her faith and commitment are so stunning.

James Conway Law brings a fresh and lively love to Haemon, son of Creon and lover of Antigone. As her older sister Ismene, Colleen Davis epitomises the position most of us would take when faced with such pressures and choices. And Stephen Townshend plays the nurse as a squawking old chook.

All three are chillingly un-heroic as the card-playing guards, with Townshend making the limited concerns of the average person very real. And as the Messenger, Davis paints a vivid picture of the final (off stage) scene.

Having felt less than enthused about his work (which predated the absurdists and was eclipsed by them in the 1960s social revolution), my renewed respect for Anouilh’s analysis of political power and resistance is entirely down to the Almost A Bird Collective and this compelling production.


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