You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family the saying goes. Given the number of dysfunctional families that seem to inhabit the plays of the ancient Greek writers, I can really empathise with this. To give an example, take the tale of Antigone which is currently on a UK tour and which I saw recently at the Greenwich Theatre.
The battle for Thebes is over and, as the dust settles the cost is counted. As well as the loss of lives in general, the leaders of the two opposing forces – Eteocles and Polyneices – are also among the dead, having fought and killed each other. This would be a tragedy in normal circumstances but, what makes it worse is that these two were brothers – cursed sons of Oedipus and Jocasta – and with their death, it is now up to their uncle Creon (Nicholas Cass-Beggs) to take up the mantle of ruler of Thebes. One of his first moves is to declare Polyneices a traitor and forbid anyone – on pain of death – to bury his body and release his soul. Polyneices’ sister, Antigone (Holly Georgia) believes that Creon’s edict is wrong and tries, despite the advice of her sister Ismene (Nathalie Barclay) attempts to do the ‘right thing’ by her brother. Caught in the act, Antigone is arrested and put in jail. Despite Antigone being his niece, and betrothed to his son Haemon (Will Bridges), Creon decides that is Antigone does not apologise for her actions, she will be punished to the full extent of the law. Can a visit from blind prophet Tiresias (Crystal Brown) save bring Creon round and save Antigone or is destiny something that cannot be fought by mere humans?
Adapted by Christopher Adams from Sophocles original play of the same name, this version of Antigone not only brings the story up to date but even moves the action into a dystopian future where rulers rule outright and surveillance is a regular part of daily life with drones in the air observing the populace and ensuring that they obey their leader. I have to say, as an idea it really works well. There are some very nice touches in the narrative. The traditional Greek Chorus is gone, replaced by the City Archives – a voice-operated computer retrieval system, sort of the lovechild of Siri and Alexa – which contains all the information the users require. As a device for getting information to a modern computer-savvy audience without losing the basic principles of the chorus, it is a marvelous touch – especially when augmented by Matt Eaton’s great sound design.
The five cast members take on a variety of roles and, initially this was a bit confusing – especially with all the Greek names being thrown around – but very soon settled down and, with minimum costume alterations you always knew who was inhabiting the stage at any one time. For me though there was one character that I just didn’t connect with, and that was the prophet Tiresias. No fault of the actor playing the role but it just felt that the part had been written to get some easy laughs when, in fact she was one of the most serious and learned of all the characters in the story. As always, this is my own opinion and not everyone would agree with me on my thoughts on Tiresias.
However, there were some great performances overall and all of the cast – along with Director Tamsin Shasha – should be applauded for bringing the story to life in such an engaging way. Holly Georgia played Antigone beautifully. Annoying in her steadfast resolve – If I had been Creon, her head would have come off 5 minutes into the show – using infallible logic to prove that she was right. Holly had a tone of voice and demeanor that brooked no discussion – When Antigone says something you believe her, even if you don’t agree. Poor Creon was reduced to reminding Antigone that he was the leader and You really felt for Nicholas Cass-Beggs as his Creon went from superbly confident leader of men to the position he finally ended in – no spoilers. Great acting by Nicholas and when paired with Holly, we had a really great double act.
So, I approached Antigone with trepidation. I was expecting to struggle to fully understand the story but was really surprised at how well the team delivered a comprehensible narrative that made sense from start to finish. At just over an hour, the show never has a chance to dip and there is something major happening every minute which ensures the mind never wanders from the stage. A really enjoyable show that has whetted my appetite for more Greek tragedies in the future.
Review by Terry Eastham
A brother condemned to walk forever in the shadow of death.
A family teetering on the brink of catastrophe.
A world where one girl dares to take a stand…
This blistering new adaptation sees Sophocles’ tragedy reimagined in a dystopian landscape, where fate is written in code and where drones flock across the skies. Brought to life by innovative theatre company Actors of Dionysus, this production combines bold ideas with passionate and visceral physical theatre.