In spring of 2010 we were tasked with creating a short scene of Tragedy, pulling influence from materials studied. I wrote a contemporary adaptation of Antigone, moving the story’s events to modern day Iraq, where my semi-fabricated conflict of American Occupiers against Militant Insurgents replaces the Civil War that precedes Sophocles’ play.
The character of Antigone is replaced by Asiya (آسية), Arabic for ‘One who tends to the weak’ and ‘One who heals’. Her brothers Ete (Eteocles) and Pol (Polynices) have both just died, which she is both discussing and discovering in the presence of an aspirational insurgent officer (and her fiancé), Malik (ملك), Arabic for ‘King’. Malik is a stand-in for King Creon more than Hæmon (Creon’s son, engaged to Antigone), in his refusal to give proper burial to one brother over the other. Avoiding a like-for-like adaptation, there is a twist in the tale that throws doubt over the perception of the brothers. This short scene features multiple endings that each hold a different fate for Asiya and Malik, which is a nod to Euripides’ lost version of the play (that ends with the happy marriage of Antigone and Hæmon, starkly contrasting with Sophocles’ telling of the tale).
Specific lines have been lifted from Sophocles’ Antigone, as well as from Philip Ridley’s Vincent River and Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes. Ridley’s very personal tragedy is also a two-hander, and features a woman (Anita, which in Iranian is short for Anahita, ‘kindness and being personable’) whose relative (her son) is unjustly killed, and her struggles to deal with the prejudices and ignorant hatred that led to it. Pinter’s play is again a two-hander between a couple that has experienced loss and tragedy of their own, bickering in the womb of their living room; it is even implied that the main character, Rebecca, is murdered by her husband, Devlin – this is mirrored in one of the alternate endings to my piece, which are an echo of Asiya’s final possible actions (Rebecca’s own ‘Echo’ famously closes Pinter’s play).
I have included [comments] where a quote has been recycled for use.
By Talented Writing Acting Theatre Students
First performed by Kat Ketley, Sophie Wakeford, Joanna Harrison, and Monty Kimball-Evans (2010) at the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK
ASIYA This morning, I heard about it this morning…
MALIK I’m sorry.
ASIYA I identified him by his birthmark.
ASIYA On his leg. Like a thumbprint.
MALIK Go on.
ASIYA His face. [Pause] I couldn’t make out his face. His face was full of blood. Deep cuts all over his chest. A gaping bullet wound across his neck. And his face – oh, my God! His face! His teeth are smashed, his nose smashed. Just blood. They’d removed his clothes…
MALIK He was wearing emblems of the Coalition-
ASIYA They’d taken his clothes away so that I could identify him. I never saw him in uniform.
MALIK Ete saw him.
ASIYA …Where is Ete?
MALIK Asiya. I’ve called you in. [Pause] To deliver my deepest-
ASIYA -He’s dead too, isn’t he? My brothers leave me the sole survivor of my family.
MALIK Ete died in a hail of gunfire this afternoon.
ASIYA Whose gunfire?
MALIK Traitorous pigs. Ete died defending our country from the evils of the occupiers and sympathisers that threaten our future, and the future of this country.
ASIYA …The civilian Coalition are as much Iraqis as we are.
MALIK No, Asiya! They are traitors to our country!
ASIYA My brother is no traitor, Malik.
MALIK Savage child – suffering has taught you nothing.
ASIYA Does his death satisfy you?
MALIK That’s… [Pause] darling…
ASIYA How odd to be called darling. No-one’s ever called me darling. You’ve never called me darling.
MALIK We will bury Ete in proper observance of right and custom, so that he can be honoured among the dead below. But you are aware, Asiya, that Pol must be left un-mourned.
ASIYA Last night Pol sat with us and ate with us. He’s as much your brother as mine.
MALIK Asiya – such claims abhor me. He is not my brother, and had you sense, you would deny his claim to your family name in death.
ASIYA How! How can you be so cold, Malik?
MALIK Ete is your only brother now. He is brother to us all. A hero of the Insurgency!
ASIYA What are you saying?
MALIK Ete is your only brother-
ASIYA -If you love me-
MALIK -Pol would have us all dead-
ASIYA -If you’ve ever loved me-
MALIK -He betrayed us-
ASIYA -You’ll understand that I cannot-
MALIK -He does not deserve our compassion-
ASIYA -Ignore my brother.
MALIK -He deserves nothing.
ASIYA Can you love?
ASIYA Can you love?
ASIYA -Answer me.
MALIK What do you think?
ASIYA I think you’re lying.
MALIK I’m lying? Asiya, you must be joking.
ASIYA You loved me before today.
MALIK Don’t… don’t say it like that.
ASIYA Like what?
MALIK Like it’s… oh, just don’t say it.
ASIYA You deny it? [Pause] Yesterday, you sat with Pol. I remember it, you were joking and revelling – you even poured him out a drink. Two drinks. You sat away from the other men, and turned away anyone who came to sit close to you. If you feel nothing for him now, you certainly made up for it last night. Who came up to you? The new man in charge of weapons training – you’ve been dying to speak with him for days now. I knew it was your only chance to talk with him, but you even turned him away. When I came to take your dishes, you looked me in the eyes, and stopped laughing for just a moment. Your eyes are not foreign to me; not unfamiliar. I can read your eyes. [Pause] But last night, I could not. That scared me, Malik. You two talked for a considerable time. And by the sound of your voices, there was never a sombre or angry word spoken between you two. And Ete was not there. Ete didn’t eat last night. How strange. You said you were going to eat with him. Did you eat with him?
MALIK I’ve heard enough.
ASIYA Malik, how can you be so bitter now? I did not see my brother in Coalition attire, did you? Did you get to the treatment centre before they stripped him naked and- and where are his clothes? Do you have them, Malik? It’s pretty careless to have lost them!
MALIK You’re exhausting my patience, Asiya.
ASIYA You have no patience for a good man-
MALIK -You’re completely convinced he was a good man. Stop wasting my time! We found him amongst the casualties in the Coalition’s own encampment.
ASIYA The men said he was found outside the camp.
MALIK Inside, outside – he was working with them to topple us.
MALIK He was wearing their uniform, Asiya!
ASIYA We regularly send out spies, emblazoned with enemy signs and patterns. Plenty of their uniforms in store.
MALIK Then it was convenient for Ete-
ASIYA -For Ete?
ASIYA You said, ‘Ete’, you said it was convenient for Ete.
MALIK No, for Pol. Convenient for Pol.
ASIYA Pol could have been undercover. You spent last night with him. Did you… Did you know that he was going to the Coalition camp this morning? Did he say-
ASIYA Did Ete know?
MALIK Did Ete know. My mind is spinning. I’m afraid I might be caught in a fatal web. But… The Penny’s dropped.
ASIYA Did Ete know?
MALIK Asiya. I cannot hide it from you. You are m-
ASIYA -What are you hiding?
MALIK Your brother was sent in, by us, to spy on them. [Pause] I knew it, Ete knew it… Pol-
ASIYA -That’s enough.
MALIK You have to understand. Pol’s death under the guise of the enemy was integral. With him shamed, and discovered by Ete. Killed by Ete… Then Ete would have garnered the support from the region’s chiefs to become the leader of this operation. And I would have been promoted at his side. We would have strengthened the attack from this stronghold, and had the influence to pull men from the surrounding regions. With your brother’s plan, we’d be further into Baghdad than ever before, and close to defeating the invading scum.
ASIYA I don’t understand…
MALIK Ete’s death this afternoon was unplanned, but it martyred him. In death, he can inspire our people to achieve the strength, and in his absence, I will be promoted, and lead the assault that your brother so wanted.
ASIYA Why do you want to hurt me, Malik? Why?
MALIK I don’t mean to hurt you, I’m just telling the truth. [Pause] But now I don’t know…
ASIYA You don’t… know? Useless creature that you are, who killed my brothers. I loved you!
MALIK Asiya. If word of this got out, our leaders would disband this stronghold, and have me killed. Have you killed.
MALIK As my betrothed and closest companion and confidante. They’ll kill you for knowing.
ASIYA Kill…? [Trembles] Fucking men… fucking war… fucking… [Long, painful cry]
Malik steps towards Asiya. Asiya holds her hands up, warning him off. Malik stops in his tracks.
Very slowly, Asiya regains control. They look at each other. Malik goes to say something.
Asiya shakes her head and makes a ‘shushing’ sound.
Very slight pause.
Asiya hands Malik his jacket. He puts it on.
Asiya straightens Malik’s collar.
Three-way split of Asiya.
One removes Malik’s gun and shoots herself in her heart.
The second turns to leave, but is shot by Malik.
The third turns to leave and exits, leaving Malik’s and her fate a mystery.
VR = Vincent River. Methuen Drama, 2009
A2A = Ashes to Ashes. Faber & Faber, 2000
Ant = Antigone, Greek Tragedy. Nick Hern Books, 2005