Pros: Clear storytelling supported by beautiful music.
Cons: Takes a little while to really get into.
The Hope Theatre, situated above the Hope and Anchor Pub in Islington, holds 50 seats but feels half that size. To reach your seat, you’ll need to walk across the stage, where the actors are already positioned, quietly reading or whispering together. The dim lighting and the sound of sirens (part of Paul Freeman’s darkly evocative sound design) places you immediately in the world of the play. But this world, free from columns and togas, may not match your ideas about Greek theatre — rather, designer Rachael Ryan’s set and costumes are simple and contemporary. The set consists of wood platforms, boxes, and basic furniture, and the costumes are grungy and punk-rock. The technical elements all work together to create an almost apocalyptic feel.
The drawback to this atmospheric pre-show is the confusion it creates as to when the performance actually begins. However, when it finally does, it’s made clear with a dramatic crescendo of sound and movement. This adaptation introduces the story with a prelude that establishes Antigone as a play-within-a-play, apparently for the purpose of providing some quick-and-dirty exposition (which was much appreciated, as it’s been several years since I’ve read my Greeks). However, this layer of the narrative is not fully realised, and is not referred to again after this initial scene.
In case you also need a refresher: Antigone (Cassandra Hodges) and Ismene (Holly Campbell), daughters of Oedipus, have returned to Thebes to find their two brothers have been killed in war– each at the hand of the other. Creon (Amanda Bailey), their uncle and the new king, decrees that one be given a proper burial while the other is left unburied as punishment. By defying him, Antigone prompts a tragic chain of events that challenges the status quo in Thebes.
The performances are one-hundred percent committed (if occasionally a touch over-the-top), and the ensemble work is top-notch, with each of the five actors playing chorus roles in addition to their named characters. This creates fantastic opportunities for symbolism, for example, having Hodges (Antigone) portray the advisor who comforts Creon after his fall from grace. It’s a haunting image– Antigone and Creon embracing at the height of the play’s tragic conclusion.
The standout performances for me were those of LJ Reeves and Hester Kent. Reeves gives a subtle and deeply affecting performance as Antigone’s betrothed, Haemon, and Creon’s wife, Euridice. And Kent is first hilarious as a bumbling, overly talkative soldier, and then utterly chilling as Teiresias, the seer who warns Creon of his impending doom.
Music is a major component of the storytelling, with the chorus regularly performing a capella interludes between scenes. The music manages to sound both polished and raw– skillful close harmonies that also embody the violence and frenzy of Greek theatre.
The dynamic lighting design by Tom Kitney effectively sets the tone for each scene: At times, the stage is flooded with dramatic red-light, at others there is a strobe-like effect, and one scene is lit entirely with torches, creating the feeling of a ghost story.
The clarity of Brendan Murray’s adaptation meant that I never struggled to follow the story. One aspect I wanted to see more of, though, was Antigone’s journey — her dialogue felt a bit one-level to me, while Creon was given a clear dramatic arc.
Overall, Antigone was a strong production was a distinctive style. With a run time of only one hour, the pace was a bit zero-to-sixty, which was jarring at first. But after a few scenes, I adjusted and found myself captivated by the story and the music, and I left the theatre pondering, as Creon did, “the terrible price that men pay for being wicked… foolish… human.”
Written by: Sophocles
Adapted by: Brendan Murray
Directed by: Matthew Parker
Assistant Directed by: Phil Croft
Composed and Music Directed by: Maria Haïk Escudero
Produced by: Amy Alexander (Tales Retold)
Booking Until: March 12 2016
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/112945