Hope Theatre, London – until 12 March 2016
Guest reviewer: Sarah Tinsley
A haunting adaptation of a timeless tragedy, Tales Retold’s production of Antigone offers high-impact storytelling in a small setting. The all-female cast allows for an ironic interpretation of Sophocles’ tale of loss and pain.
The injustice of being left as carrion on the battlefield and the whims of the gods are arguably slightly tricky concepts to enrage a modern audience. In an effort to update the Greek tragedy of Antigone, the set has a Mad Max feel; leather, corrugated iron and crates invoke a futuristic dystopia, along with a churning background of unidentified explosions, burning and planes overhead. Brendan Murray’s adaptation smooths out the more complex language and gives us a pared-down version, occasionally leaching into modern slang. However, I think I would have preferred either a complete modern update or a classic, as the constant shifting between the two made for slightly uneven delivery.
Antigone, the daughter/sister of Oedipus, the man who loved his mother just a little more than was necessary, is condemned for daring to break the ruling by King Creon that one of her brothers must not be buried. Her defiance leads to a spiralling of events that will result in the death of everyone the king cares for and the ultimate disintegration of Thebes. Cassandra Hodges is defiant in the lead role, although I would have preferred a little less shrieking. The rest of the cast flit in and out of role, each lending their distinct voice and power as they shift about the stage space. LJ Reeves and Holly Campbell are solid and enigmatic in the small theatre space.
Lighting is used to impressive effect thanks to Tom Kitney, utilising dipped overhead lights and torches to create the sense of drawing in or opening out of space. In a strong cast, Amanda Bailey, despite her gorgeous tone, failed to deliver a regal performance of Creon, and I was left unconvinced of the power or tyranny of this central role.
The highlight, for me, was the regular intrusion of the chorus. Maria Haïk Escudero’s original choral work fluctuated between dissonance and soft, floating harmony, reflecting the shifting fates of the characters and ultimately of human endeavour. There were some wonderful moments in both the singing and the script where the power and control of man over woman carried a mocking tone when released from a female mouth. Without needing to do anything other than change the gender of the actors, the underlying implication is that the patriarchy and its unbending adherence to violence and arrogance is truly at fault in this ancient civilisation.
I suppose it will always be an issue, how to take something that is ultimately a hyperbolic torrent of angst, condense it into an hour, and try to have it not come off as too hysterical. While perhaps my appreciation is fifteen hundred years out of date, I would have preferred a little more light and shade. Although we are treated to some fantastic moments by Hester Kent, who gives us humour as the soldier and menacing predictions as Tieiresias, the rest of the cast operate a little too much on overdrive. With nowhere to go from delirium at the outset, the truly devastating points of the plot get a bit lost in the heightened delivery of most of the script.
A thought-provoking and melodic portrayal that would benefit from a little more nuance.
Antigone – The Hope Theatre until 12th March
Review by Sarah Tinsley