Land and the Wall
Why a Palestinian Antigone
Because the play speaks of the relationship between human beings and the land, of the love that each individual has for his native land, of the bond with the land. Because Creon, blinded by his fears and his obstinate ways, forbids the burying of a dead person in the very ground which gave witness to his birth. And because he condemns Antigone to be entombed alive. And because, following the prophecies of Teiresias and the death of his own son, Creon realizes the error of his ways and vows to make up for the injustice that has been committed.
Oedipus was the former ruler of Thebes. At his death, his sons, Eteocles and Polineices, decide to share power between them: each will rule for one year. Eteocles becomes king, but after a year, he refuses to give up his place to Polineices. So Polineices gathers an army with the help of the Argossians and attacks Thebes. The two brothers end up by killing each other.
After this fratricidal war, Creon, their uncle, becomes king. He decides to give full burial rights to Eteocles and to throw Polineices’ corpse to the dogs.
Antigone is opposed to this decision. She wants to bury her brother Polineices, in contravention to the law laid down by Creon. So Creon condemns Antigone to death.
Haemon, son of Creon and fiancé to Antigone, then tries to save the young woman he loves. The tragedy builds, and war is declared between the dead and the living.
I am made for loving, not for hating
An intimate understanding of the tragedy
What struck me, right from the first rehearsals, was the intimate, in depth, understanding that the Palestinian artistic team – primarily the actors – had of the spirit of Sophocles and Greek Tragedy. Hussam Abu Eisheh, who plays the role of Creon, said one day with a great deal of humour: “We understand Sophocles because the Palestinian tragedy is a much more ancient one than Greek tragedy”.
What makes Antigone a Palestinian figure is the challenge she lays down to the authority of repression, linked to her decision to die in the name of her convictions. She is representative of the youth that you come across daily on the streets of Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah and so on…
In the show, the voice of Mahmoud Darwich can be heard, a voice which has been associated with, for the last years of his life, the music of Trio Joubran. Their music, the voice of the poet, and the Palestinian artists who have created the show, all this has been in the service of the piece by Sophocles. With 2500 years of existence behind it, this figure seems so far away and yet so close because of its human truth.
Like Sophocles, the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwich, who died in 2008, had the ability to celebrate the struggle of human beings for their survival and dignity in a world driven mad. He always acknowledged how close he was to the stories of Greek Tragedy: “I chose to be a Trojan poet. I am definitely on the losing side. The losers who have been deprived of the right to leave even the slightest trace of their defeat, and of their right to proclaim it. I am inclined to say this defeat; but there is no question of surrender”
Palestinian National Theatre
TThe words “Palestinian National Theatre” takes it for granted that this is a theatre which receives financial support from its own government, but the reality is that the Palestian National Authority, as well as the theatre, live under occupation. In line with the bilateral agreements, it is forbidden for the Authority to subsidize institutions in Jerusalem. Moreover, the Palestinian National Theatre, being legally registered in Jerusalem, could ask for subsidies from the Israeli government. But, as a Palestinian organization, the directors of the theatre discount this possibility in order to maintain its freedom in putting on shows. The result is that Palestinian National Theatre is solely dependent on international aid and overseas partnerships in the pursuit of its activities as the only Palestinian theatre in the city of Jerusalem.
In order to overcome the continued closing in of Jerusalem, this occupied city, and in order to maintain solid links with the Palestinian community, the Palestinian National Theatre organizes tours and programmes with theatres in the West Bank. These “beyond the walls” programmes are a way of bringing theatre to audiences unable to make the journey to the theatre themselves and of bringing together the Palestinian community that are involved in different art forms.
For several years now, and despite the testing times that have been endured, the Palestinian National Theatre has been able to collaborate with numerous partners from France (Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Théâtre des Quartiers d’ Ivry, Compagnie La Barraca, Festival de Marionnettes de Charleville…), Norway, Great Britain, United States of America, Denmark, and Holland amongst others…
Text in Arabic: Abdel Rahman Badawi
Direction: Adel Hakim
Set and lighting design: Yves Collet
Music: Trio Joubran
Costumes: Shaden Salim
Lighting technician : Léo Garnier
Sound technician : Nicolas Favière
Set technician : Antoine Raullin
Set construction: Abd El Salam Abdo in collaboration with ateliers Jipanco
Video: Matthieu Mullot and Pietro Belloni
With actors of the Palestinian National Theatre:
Hussam Abu Eisheh, Alaa Abu Garbieh, Kamel Al Basha, Yasmin Hamaar, Shaden Salim, Daoud Toutah
A co-production of National Palestinian Theater (Jerusalem), Théâtre des Quartiers d’Ivry (Paris) with the contribution of the General French Consulate in Jerusalem, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Interview with the director
1- Do you believe that Sophocles’ Antigone is a pure political text;
I think that, more than anything else, Sophocles’ Antigone is a theatrical poem.
It speaks about love, death, about the place of everyone of us in society, about the meaning of our presence on earth, about the weight of the past in our lives, about the relation between women and men, about the generational conflict. All that concentrated in a play which doesn’t last more than two hours ! It’s unbelievable, isn’t it ? Only a great poet can realize such an exploit.
One of the themes of the play is political, of course, because a man responsible of the City takes a legal decision, convinced that this law is in the State’s interest. It happens, unexpectedly, that this law will be rejected by a young girl. Her arguments ar not based on a political logic, they are expressed in a style that is essentially lyrical and emotional. In the play there is no particular message. It is about the complexity of life and how different concepts, different opinions and feelings can enter in conflict with one another and drive to tragedy.
A thing that astonished me, and that appeared obvious to me lately during the rehearsals, is that before the final appearance of Antigone, right before her walking towards her death, the text of the Chorus is about Eros and Love. This astounding poem about the power of love ends with the name of Aphrodite. At this precise moment Antigone appears becoming a mythical character. We might say that she enters on stage as the incarnation of Aphrodite herself and her text speaks about wedding, sensuality and pleasure. She presents herself as a bride who’s going to join her lover … Acheron. It’s Eros and Tanathos joint all along the play.
2- Ι suppose you have chosen Antigone not only because it’s a play that carries modern truths and believes, remaining relevant in this modern age, but because it has a further meaning for Palestine. So, why a Palestinian Antigone;
When the idea came to make a collaboration between the Théâtre des Quartiers d’Ivry ( the National Dramatic Center I direct in Paris) and the Palestinian National Theater situated in Jerusalem, it seemed a bit complicated to chose the play. I wanted it to be a play connected with the Palestinian situation, but without direct interpretation of the regional conflict. It had to be universal and at the same time tell something about the fight of Palestinian People against opression. The character of Antigone seemed to be emblematic of what happens everyday in the streets of Ramallah, Al Quds (Jerusalem in hebrew) or Al Khalil (Hebron in hebrew). More over , what is interesting in the play is that Creon and Antigone belong to the same family. He is her uncle, her mother’s brother. Creon is split apart by the situation. He loves Antigone but he has political responsibilities.The play reveals something ingenious : when Antigone speaks about divine laws, it coresponds to the modern Human Rights. Sophocles had invented the concept of Human Rights so long ago ! And what the Palestinian people fight for, today, is precisely that : the Human Rights unrespected in an apartheid State. Human Rights that should be more considered, valued and defended than the laws edicted by an occupational power and its strategical politics. On the other hand, the play talks about the tragedy of two enemy brothers, Eteocles and Polineices. In Palestine, recently, there has been the conflict between Hamas and Fatah. And finally, the position of woman in Arab societies is also clearly reflected through the play.
3- What struck you for staging this Greek tragedy; How did you approach it; What is its character; (stage design, music, lighting etc)
I started thinking in producing Antigone twenty years ago when happened the events on the place Tien An Men in China, when, all over the world, we saw the pictures of this young student standing in front of a tank and stopping its advance. That’s why I wanted the stage design to be metallic in order to provoke confrontation between the fragile bodies of the actors and the roughness of metal, confrontation systematically seen in Palestine where the bodies are constantly in front of arms, checkpoints, separation walls, armful soldiers, and where young people are not anymore afraid of death, convinced that it is better to die in dignity than to live in humiliation…
I first imagined using Manos Hadjidakis’ music, the great Greek composer. But when I heard the music of Trio Joubran, three Palestinian brothers musicians of oud, I decided to use their music, very similar of Manos Hadjidakis’ and very adequate for Greek Tragedy. That means that Mediterranean musical culture is almost all the same on these shores.
Another important element is the analogy of the two corpses at the beginning of the play (Eteocles and Polineices) and their homologs at the end of the tragedy (Haemon and Eurydice). With death rituals executed by the living protagonists.
4- What is the point of view you have chosen for staging the ancient play for today’s audience;
Whenever I work with actors on classical texts, it could be Sophocles, Seneca, Shakespeare, Goldoni, Molière, … very quickly we forget that it has been written in the past, we forget the context of the author. We look and try to understand it, as if it had been written yesterday. So the way of acting, the themes, the costumes, the language must look of today and not of the past. With the actors we have to connect the situations of the play with our actual reality. Every event that is happening in the world while we are rehearsing shall feed our imagination and will be injected in the intention of acting so that the audience could understand it and make the connection with actuality. With the Palestinian actors there was no need to explain anything : a girl whose brother has been killed in war is part of their daily reality. It is the same about the corpses that cannot be buried in their mother land. It is the same about the wall that will surround Antigone so that she would disappear out of sight of the other people.
For example, while we were rehearsing in Jerusalem in 2011, there were the Arab Spring revolutions. The rebellion of the young generations against old dictatorship systems. Husam, the actor who acts Creon made it one day on the style of Hosni Mubarak, another day on the style of Khadafi or Ben Ali, … And Alaa said he tried to act Haemon as a young man of the Arab revolutions.
5- Where could be found today: Creon, Antigoni, Eteocles and Polynices; What do they represent today;
These characters exist all over the planet. We hear about rebels in all countries, in Europe (Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, in the suburbs of France and England, …), in America (today’s riots in Brazil, in the United States, …), in Syria, in Egypt, … And it is certain that these rebellion are going to grow more and more. That doesn’t make us more optimist because it means that people are desperate and that politicians are not able to listen and understand their own populations.
6- What is the relation between Sophocles and the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwich;
Mahmoud Darwich got inspiration to write his poems from the reality of the Palestinian people, being himself a militant of the Palestinian cause. And he traduced this reality in his poetry with words of great sensuality. That’s why his texts, exactly like Sophocles’, are rich of thoughts and images reflecting the society they live in one and the other.
In the show we use the integral text of Sophocles, except the last Chorus that I have replaced by the poem of Mahmoud Darwich titled “On this earth there is what deserves life”. It corresponds perfectly, in terms of style as well as of meaning, to the play. Mahmoud Darwich was deeply influenced by the Greek culture, he has written a poem titled “We will chose Sophocles”, and said about himself that he was a Troyan poet who sang defeat but not surrender.
His destiny led him to die in the United States in 2008. His body was brought back to Palestine. His parents wanted to bury his corpse in his native earth, Galilea, but the Israeli authorities forbad it. It looks very much like a Sophocles’ situation !
7- How do you comment on the relationship between the original Ancient Greek text and the new Arabic translation;
The property of Sophocles is that it is altogether popular and sophisticated. It is high literature but at the same time it can be understood by everybody. So we had to find an Arabic translation that could correspond with the literary style of Sophocles. The translation of Abd El Rahman el Badawy, an existentialist Egyptian philosopher translator of Heidegger, seemed to be the most adequate. In Arabic there are many levels of language : the Koranic, the literary, the journalistic and the dialectical. We chose the literary that can be understood by all the people who speak Arabic.
Another aspect of this version is that Arabic language has a musicality and intonations that are similar to Ancient Greek. Much more for example than the French language. And that is very useful for the interpretation of Antigone.
8- You are among the personalities that signed against the closing of greek TV ΕΡΤ. What is the real meaning behind this act of the greek government;
Greek government, but behind this government there is the European Troika, acts exactly like Creon ! This European dictatorship wants to impose a unique view of what society should be : a generalized supermarket, a jungle where the most powerful and competitive predators will make the greatest benefits. Of course this is more than unjust, it is criminal. It means to ignore the culture of the different countries, their cultural wealth, their right to have a civilization that wouldn’t be exclusively economical. For example, why doesn’t Germany pay its debt to Greece and therefore cancel the debt of Greece towards International Banks ? As Antigone says, in this matter there is a genealogical tragedy and curse linked to the past and not only to the present crisis. How can there be such an awful crisis on the European Continent which is the richest region of the planet ? How comes that when the crisis began on 2008 these wonderful rich States saved the banks and ruined their own countries’ economy instead of trying to give a better way of life, or, let’s say, an alternative way of life, to their citizens ? There is a political and moral crisis, that is certain, exactly the same as what happens between Creon and Antigone. And the same as Antigone, Haemon and Ismene react and fight against unjustice, let’s hope that the new generation will fight against European Government that wants to throw the People on it’s knees in order to exploit it and dominate it more easily.
9- Violence is the disease of the modern age. All your work is against this. What do you believe is the reason of violence today;
Unfortunately, violence has always existed. Today violence is the product of two political strategies :
. one is the economical unlimited benefits as aim of the multinational companies, the economical lobbies that rule the European Commission and the United States; that is the only meaning of the word “growth” : it doesn’t mean that citizens should live wisely or happily, no, it means that these criminal companies must keep making more and more benefits. They are like hungry lions who want to devour the entire world. Lions are very violent when they are hungry. The problem of these new entities which rule the planet is that they are never satisfied, they always need more and this “more” is expressed by the word “growth”. And it doesn’t matter how many million people will suffer and die because of this need of “growth”.
. the other is the concept of «clash of civilizations» which is used by economical powers to create chaos in the world in order to take advantage of wars that will explose here or there. Everytime there is war somewhere the great companies make enormous benefits. The concept of «clash of civilizations» has developped the religious extemisms between West Countries and Islamic World. In the second part of XXth century nobody talked about religious wars. Now is seems to be something quite normal. These wars have started when the ideologist of Harvard, Samuel Huntington, wrote «The Clash of Civilizations» in the early nineties and this concept was used by the two Bush presidents to develop the wars they have provoked and leadered.
10- What are the things that inspire you to write;
Life is inexhaustible source of inspiration with its joys and pains, its tragedies and comedies. The difficulty is to find the adequate style to write and to present it in an artistic expression. One can say interesting thing, any individual has a subjective vision of life, of situation, of opinions, but an artist has to fix his own subjective vision in such a deep way that the individuals who get in contact with this material will understand emotionally and not only intellectually what it is about. The challenge of art is a very great challenge that needs altogether much work and much humility.
11- Ιs there a special meaning for you that a Palestinian Antigone is presented in Cyprus;
Cyprus people know as well as the Palestinians the meaning of occupation, of colonies, of dictatorship authorities. They share a similar geography, they share the Mediterranean culture and are aware of the same conflicts of the past and of the present.
That’s why we are very happy and proud that the International Festival of Ancient Greek Theater has invited us.
And it’s wonderful to perform in ancient style theatres, in open air, involved in a sky full of stars to say these wonderful words written 2500 years ago.