[Originally published by On:Yorkshire Magazine: http://www.on-magazine.co.uk/arts/yorkshire-theatre/antigone-review-york-theatre-royal/]
Re-working a play that has been seen on stage across the world for over two and a half thousand years is no mean feat. Roy Williams has taken Sophocles’ classic Greek tragedy and adapted it to make it relevant to a modern audience without losing the effect and moral lessons of the original story.
The action centres around the children of Oedipus and Jocasta (the infamous incestual ex-King and Queen of Thebes according to Greek Mythology): Antigone, Esme, Eto’ and Orrin. When Eto’ and Orrin end up killing each other in their quest to become King of Thebes the former is granted a holy burial on account of being an excellent soldier whilst the latter is left to be eaten by dogs in the street for being a traitor. Despite being ordered to not touch or move Orrin’s body the feisty Antigone defies Creo, the King of Thebes and her cousin, and covers her brother’s body to lay him to rest properly. Antigone’s disregard of Creo’s orders is made worse by the fact that she is dating his son, Eamon, much to Creo and his wife’s disgust. Antigone’s punishment is to be buried alive – left to die in the most horrific of circumstances to try and regain Creo’s power over his people by using her as an example.
Whilst the setting of the Ancient Greek city of Thebes and the characters’ names remain largely true to Sophocles’ script (despite some of them being shortened, like ‘Tig’ for the play’s namesake character and others being given a modern twist) everything else is brought into the modern day. The original scripts of Greek plays are more like poetry than prose and Williams creates the same flow and rhythm with his writing with the use of urban street language throughout. The beginning and end of the play remain largely true to Sophocles’ script and neatly bookend the whirlwind of action that ensues in between.
The play explores how the situations may be handled in the modern day with video and mobile phones playing a big part in identifying that it was Antigone who covered her brother’s body against the wishes of Creo, the king of Thebes. You can imagine the snippets of information, the videos and sound bites about the incident that would appear on Social Media today. The modern interpretation of how details are revealed in the play shows the dangers of passing on and relaying on second and third hand information much like Chinese whispers.
Antigone is only 95 minutes long with no interval, so the stage is used very cleverly to depict many different settings. The backdrop of the stage also acts as a large screen to project video clips onto to show what is being watched on smartphones by the soldiers or the narrative and memories that are running through Creo and Antigone’s heads.
The beauty of the play is that one can relate to the characters and the relationships on stage as well as all of the difficulties that each character is facing. The struggle of a teenager, Eamon, against strong parents who are trying to push him in certain directions in depicted well and Creo’s battle to assert his power over his soldiers and public is key to the play and, ultimately, results in terrible consequences.
The Pilot Theatre cast is truly fantastic and does feature some familiar faces from well-known TV shows like Casualty, Dr Who, Skins and Eastenders. Savannah Gordon-Liburd’s portrayal of Antigone is brilliant – strong minded and passionate, she stands up for what she believes in and doesn’t bend at any point during her ordeal. Mark Monero’s depiction of Creo is also one of the highlights as he is full of grandeur and mindless assurance that his is the only way to live – to rule by fear. What was surprising for a classic Greek Tragedy were the elements of humour that were thrown in occasionally by Creo’s soldiers that had the audience laughing out loud – a great balance to the drama. I found myself completely engrossed in the play and I momentarily forgot that I was in a theatre – which is definitely the sign of a great performance.
Cleverly made contemporary without losing the message and tragedy that is at the heart of the original play, I will definitely be looking out for more of Pilot Theatre’s performances in the future. Antigone is a roaring success.