Antigone became unexpectedly topical when it coincided with the death of Osama bin Laden, and the unceremonious disposal of his body. This year, Polly Findlay's production at the National very consciously exploits the parallels, opening with a tableau that recreates the famous photo of President Obama and his staff watching the raid unfold. This, then, is Antigone as The West Wing, Soutra Gilmour's set creating the hectic offices of Government, as well as the back corridors where we first find Jodie Whittaker's Antigone and her sister Ismene (Annabel Scholey) discussing in hushed tones what's to be done with the remains of their brother Polyneices: Having led an army against his native Thebes, the new King Creon has decreed that his body is to be left unburied and unmourned as a warning to others. If Antigone defies her uncle's orders and buries her brother, the penalty is death. If she doesn't, she's disobeying the gods themselves.
Findlay's modernisation of the story is for the most part very effective, which Don Taylor's translation helps without overdoing the modern references - the only thing that jarred with the setting for me was the discussion of how women have no political rights, and that's largely because once you invoke that Obama photo you remember that Hillary Clinton was in it as well. But the conceit of turning the Chorus (plus Kobna Holdbrook-Smith's Messenger) into governmental staff is an effective one (though Alfred Enoch as one of the Chorus could really do with toning down the gesticulations.) The busy Luke Norris turns up as the unfortunate soldier tasked with delivering bad news to his king (he's fully-clothed but people with an interest may care to know that his uniform's had the sleeves ripped off it.) He also seems to be channeling Russell Tovey in his performance, which kind of works. Another interesting choice changes the blind seer from the ancient man we usually see - Jamie Ballard's Teiresias has instead been blinded by what look like horrific burns to the face.
Antigone by Sophocles in a version by Don Taylor is booking in repertory until the 21st of July at the National Theatre's Olivier.
Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.