Review: Antigone in the Amazon

Swiss director Milo Rau powerfully adapts Sophocles' play

international review (adelaide) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Antigone in the Amazon
Photo by Kurt van der Elst
Published 16 Mar 2024

On 17 April 1996, activists from the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) were demonstrating on the S-bend of the PA-150 highway in Pará, Brazil, when they were fired upon by federal police. Nineteen unarmed activists were killed in the massacre. In this production, Belgian theatre company NTGent, and activists from the MST (including survivors of the massacre), repurpose the plot of Sophocles’ play Antigone to bring the event to a wider audience.

In the retelling, the protagonist, Antigone, is likened to the MST activists and Indigenous peoples who risk their own lives advocating for land rights in the Amazon. While the antagonist, Creon, is likened to the Brazilian state apparatus and its desire for order. And as Thebes was left ravaged by the political machinations of the main characters in the Greek play, the tragic figure in this production is the Amazon itself and our natural environment in general.

The work is layered with rich parallels. It contrasts the Hellenic world of iron-age justice with the facts of colonisation, slavery and dictatorship that stain Brazilian society. Multilingual performances, aided by subtitles, de-anglicize the pronunciations and re-orient the Greek drama to feel appropriately foreign. And a diversity of mediums – stage acting, live music performance, documentary film-making, historical reenactment and choral ensemble – are interwoven into a novel tapestry which takes tight, unexpected turns.

Antigone in the Amazon is a mediative and mournful exploration of the themes of the Greek play in the context of contemporary Brazil. At once explicitly political and wholly universal, it forces our awareness of land rights issues in the Amazon and to reconsider our own political context.


Antigone in the Amazon, Dunstan Playhouse, until 17 March