Antigone in the Amazon

Antigone in the Amazon Adelaide Festival 2024Adelaide Festival. Mio Rau/NT Gent & MST. Dunstan Playhouse. 15 Mar 2024


Implanting Sophocles' great tragedy of Antigone, she who some people call the first feminist, upon the modern global tragedy of the cruel displacement of the Amazonian indigenes draws a long bow.


For Swiss writer and director, Milo Rau, it completes a trilogy of ancient myths preceded by Orestes in Mosul and his Jesus play, The New Gospel.


It is as well to understand that Rau is known as a “great disrupter” in the scheme of modern theatre. He cares for shock factors and grim themes.  Herein, man’s inhumanity to man is depicted in the roughshod domination of the Amazonian indigenes by the male forces of greed and ever-expansive capitalist exploitation of resources.

Like feisty Antigone, little women of an embattled Brazilian village world seek to stand up: landless workers; valiant activists; modern Davids against today’s capitalist Goliaths.


The script involves a great deal of political explanation, fairly heavy-duty didacticism with the assumption that an audience begins with no knowledge. Indeed, in Rau’s quasi Brechtian anti-theatre style, there evolve descriptions of how and why, as theatre-makers, the troupe chose its Brazilian locations. These locations which become familiar to the audience thanks to huge video screens which scroll down to bring the backdrop world to life on the stage as a documentary simulcast. This is absolutely brilliant, excellently synchronised with the action on stage, so much so that the actors sometimes seem to be a part of the projected images. They are, of course, right there in those images, insofar as the two worlds, stage and screen, are married in the narrative as the shatteringly terrible Brazilian massacre is re-enacted in your face. It is Rau ensuring that the audience is appalled by the immediacy of a far-away horror story.  The story is told in Portuguese, Dutch and Tucano with English surtitles high onstage.

The arrival of the covid pandemic is included, rather cleverly describing that eerie calm we all felt in the centre of its storm. It is interesting contexualisation.


There are four performers onstage. Pablo Castella is both actor and musical accompanist and his soundscape flows through the production. Frederico Araujo is principal, an elegance of a human being who can transition from hysteria to fatalism in a trice. Janne Desmet and Joel Happel are onstage based around a table upon which sit ample supplies of bottled water and perchance assorted props. Costume and character changes are performed there. 


With the ancient Greek theme prevailing, the acting style veers to anti-naturalistic, perchance at times to ham.

On occasion, performance itself is doubled when, for instance, the troupe performs Antigone on screen for the indigenes in a village pavilion in the depths of the Amazon while also performing it live onstage in Adelaide. Not always exactly the same cast members. Some are still in Brazil. The Adelaide season has the aforementioned four. The transitions of these places and themes are interesting and the documentary visit to the indigenous community makes for quite a cultural revelation.


The heartlessness of ancient Greek rules plays into the ruthlessness of contemporary land-grabbers and, onstage, the mesmerising Araujo descends into a strenuous lather of desperation upon the carpet of pseudo earth. It is among several moments of searing agony. But, there also are times when the stage action slows to a crawl of attenuated emphasis, a challenging Rau device.


Milo Rau’s Antigone in the Amazon creates a powerful night in the theatre. Not that it tells us anything new. The greatest monster on earth is man. Man’s enemy is man. The planet’s enemy is man.

So it was in ancient Greece and so it is today.



Samela Harris


When: 15 to 17 Mar

Where: Dunstan Playhouse