“There’s this joke among theater makers and playwrights that a traditional three-act play follows the line of a male orgasm,” says playwright Elena Carapetis. “You build to a climax and then there’s a denouement. What I did with this piece is that I followed a non-patriarchal structure.
Carapetis wrote a new adaptation of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone for the State Theater Company of South Australia, and she tells Large format she has been fascinated by the cool and spunky heroine of the play since she was a teenager. “Greek culture is really proud of the influence it’s had on western culture at large, but when you look at some of the stories from ancient Greece, they’re really twisted,” she laughs. “Antigone is the offspring of Oedipus, who was married to his mother.”
The story of Sophocles dates back to 441 BCE, and there have been many translations and adaptations over the centuries since – but what struck Greek-Cypriot-Australians was how the patriarchal structures in Antigone still remains relevant to the world we live in today.
“I noticed [all these] the modern Antigones spoke truth to power – but I also noticed that the girls were neglected,” she says. In the classic Antigone, a young girl says no to a king (her uncle Creon) even if it means certain death. Today’s young activists, such as Malala, Greta Thunberg and X Gonzales (who founded gun advocacy group Never Again MSD), all seemed like the Adelaide playwright’s current Antigones.
” These young ones [were] telling adults, ‘you’re doing this wrong’…and they keep getting fired, they keep being silenced. Or we say, ‘yes, young person, you’re amazing’, but life goes on because the structures of our world, our cultural and social systems, are so calcified and ingrained that it’s really hard to change them even when we wanna .”
Carapetis talks about the double misogyny that applies to young girls in particular, because they are both young and female. (“Young girls are boring,” “young girls are irritating,” she mimics) and she says it’s the first play she’s written that comes from a place of anger.
“[It’s] like you tell Grace Tame to smile,” she says. “When you start looking at the world through that filter, how badly we treat young people who speak truth to power, you see it everywhere.”
The 90-minute production begins in ancient Greece and audiences will settle into a classic depiction of the tragedy before being catapulted into “a mosaic or kaleidoscope of scenes that show today’s Antigone and how we can go on the story”.
Three actors – Kidaan Zelleke, Kathryn Adams and Chiara Gabrielli – will star in the production, which will run from May 27 to June 11 at the Odeon Theater. It marks the directorial debut of resident director Anthony Nicola, 23, who also has Greek Cypriot heritage.
“I fought for the director to be a young person”, explains Carapetis. “We have three fantastic young actors playing all the different versions of Antigone. They represent a few different strands of identity that are in the room, and they also bring their lived experience… The script itself is a plan and a provocation and I’m handing that over now to this diverse, smart, adventurous team of people who will bring their own dangerous ideas to the table.
Talk to Large format, lead actor Zelleke says the idea of Antigone’s spirit reincarnating over generations “feels prevalent.” Comparing it to the dark humor she sees on Tiktok, the 24-year-old says this production of Antigone also has a “playfulness about how generations have played with our future, and now we’re going to play with your reality.”
“It’s surprisingly chilling how much it feels like the fundamental struggle of the original ancient Greek tragedy is the same one we’re still fighting today,” she says. “I think a lot of the game is trying to figure out how we’re supposed to fight this thing that seems invisible.”
If Antigone herself was on Tiktok, she would absolutely lip-synch to the words of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s 2012 “misogyny speech,” Zelleke says. Gabrielli, who intervenes in the conversation on the phone, adds: “I think she would make thirst traps.”
“She would totally do mash-ups of politicians promising things and not delivering,” adds Zelleke.
“I think a lot of people will like it, but there will be people who won’t like it – or who won’t understand what we’re fighting for,” Zelleke continues. “Throughout history, you’re angry at the generation before you – and you come to not understand the generation after you. My experience of feminism is colored by my culture and my skin — I’m a black woman and that’s saying something — so feminism has to be inclusive and our stories have to be inclusive. It’s the same for trans people, people with disabilities, queer people. Anyone who doesn’t understand this might find the show abrasive… [But] I think a lot of people will see their stories in there, people who don’t usually see that on stage, especially in Adelaide.
Antigone is on view at the State Theater from May 27 to June 11. $39 to $80.