theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39), Edinburgh
5-25 August 2018
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Antigone presented by Amplify Time and New Celts at TheSpace on the Mile, attempts to bring the concerns of Ancient Greece to the contemporary arena. If unresolved tensions in the script mean it is not always successful, this production has considerable vitality and nerve. (Photo © Amplify Time)
Sophocles’s original, now some 2500 years old, tells the story of Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus who comes into conflict with the laws of Thebes when she tries to give her brother Polynices the burial that custom demands, even though he led a rebellion against the state.
Owen McCafferty’s recent version seeks to bring the questions of duty, revenge, honour, and loyalty to the laws of humans and gods up to date. This is, of course, the latest in a long line of translations that testify to the enduring power of those Ancient Greek tragedies on which so much of Western drama is based.
There is a great deal about this production that is praiseworthy. The opening scene, between Antigone (Natalie Kelly) and her sister Ismene (Nicola Alexander), manages to overcome the large amount of exposition and backstory with an atmosphere of dread and tension.
Kelly in particular has an intensity to her performance that is only matched by Raydun Alexander’s Creon, an excellent characterisation that fully justifies the decision to swap the genders of Thebes’s ruling couple.
Unfortunately, this does not work so well for Calum Philp, whose Eurydice (now King rather than Queen) is diminished in impact. Philp earlier has a compelling performance as the Guard, whose speeches exemplify the biggest problem with this version of the script.
removed from contemporary understanding
The vast majority of the lines try to sound contemporary, but do not always succeed – which is hardly surprising considering the discussions of funeral rites and fidelity to the gods are always going to be removed from contemporary understanding, even if the motivations behind them remain sadly relevant.
Ryan De-La-Haye, Nicola Alexander, Calum Philp and Raydun Alexander. Pic: Amplify Time Productions
Attempts at colloquialisms are largely limited to liberal helpings of swearing, which tend to undermine the emotional content rather than reinforcing it.
There is also a tension between McCafferty’s desire to bring violence on stage when Greek tradition requires it remains firmly off. As a result, by the end a great deal of air seems to have been sucked out of the production, with Laura Caban, as the blind prophet Tiresias and Ryan Delahaye, as Creon’s son Haemon, struggling to make their characters’ featured moments seem immediate enough.
This is certainly not the fault of the performers, as they (and director Harry Jackson) are vital, compelling forces as chorus figures. Jackson’s direction makes interesting use of statue-like tableaux, which adds atmosphere but can make things a little too static.
There are many safer choices this company could have made than a comparatively conventional version of Sophocles, so they deserve great praise for their ambition; there are also performers here of considerable promise.
Running time 1 hour 15 minutes (no interval)
TheSpace on the Mile (Venue 39), 80 High St, EH1 1TH
Sunday 5 – Saturday 25 August 2018 (odd dates only)
Odd dates only at 2.25 pm
Book tickets on the Fringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/antigone-1