This past Sunday I was able to see a performance of “Burial at Thebes.” This is a translation of “Antigone” by Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet and translator. I went into the play knowing the plot of “Antigone” but had never read Heaney’s translation.
The play opened with lights off. The audience looked down upon the stage, which was covered in hay. The stage lights came on and focused on a group of people, dressed all in black, fighting among one another. It was here that the audience was able to understand that Eteocles and Polyneices are both killed. I really liked the way that the theater decided to open up the production. It was dramatic and helped the audience understand the severity of the event that begins this play.
Listening to this unique translation of the text was very interesting. Hearing words like “Keening” outside of an Irish plot was not expected. Keening is an Irish form of mourning which often includes loud singing and wailing. Instances like this one allowed the audience to remember who translated this version of the ancient text. Seamus Heaney translated it! Of course there are going to be instances of Irish Culture scattered throughout the text.
I have heard that the meter used in this translation was intentional. I don’t know that much about it but there was a scene of the play where the meter was emphasized. The furies stood all around the theater and stomped a beat. The characters then spoke along to that beat. It showed how the important the meter was to the play and to the translation.
My favorite scene in the play was when Tiresias confronted Creon. The actor who played Tiresias had an awesome costume! He had in some type of contact that made him appear blind. His lone, but important scene was chilling. The costume design of his character made the effect of the scene that much more powerful.
Although I had to attend this play for credit, I am glad that I went. Seeing Heaney’s translation played out opened windows to the understanding of Heaney and the ancient text. I now have a greater respect for the plot of Antigone having seen it spoken aloud as it was written to be. I’m interested to see what my professor does with this text in the context of Irish History and Literature (although I already have some ideas)
If you’re in or around Long Island, you should consider seeing it for only $10! Really, it was well done. If you’re interested you can read about it here. This play made me appreciate “Antigone” in a new way, I really am grateful for the opportunity to go.
“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” Sophocles, Antigone