Antigone by Pilot Theatre
York Theatre Royal, October 21
Pilot Theatre have served up a gritty and powerful adaption of Sophocles’ classic play, Antigone.
Following on from the success of 2012’s The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner, playwright Roy Williams has teamed up with the award winning company once more to fulfil a long term ambition of giving this ancient Greek tragedy a contemporary setting, showing that its themes of love, defiance, family and power are still very much relevant today.
I studied the works of Sophocles at school, and while this provided an excellent grounding in classical literature, I couldn’t help thinking that the action on stage (or rather, lack of it) did little to engage the audience.
Most of the excitement – including grisly murders, eye-gouging and bloody battles – happens off stage in Sophocles’ world, leaving it to his woe-stricken tragic characters to describe events in bum-achingly long speeches.
Fine writing, yes, but often an ordeal for an audience.
Thank goodness then that Roy Williams has penned this engaging contemporary adaption. While still set in the ancient Greek city of Thebes, the characters and the world they inhabit are given a more recognisably modern appearance, one of grim inner city tower blocks and grainy CCTV surveillance, where a dark and forbidding street corner is cleverly transformed into a nightclub by moving around a few dirty bins.
It is a world of gangland warfare, one which has been torn apart by gangster culture and family feuds, resulting in the deaths of two warring brothers.
While one is hailed as a hero by their victorious uncle, Creo, the other is castigated as a traitor and left to rot on the street where he fell.
Railing against this judgement is Antigone (or Tig as she is known throughout) who seeks an honourable burial for both of her brothers and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to do what is right.
Standout performances include that of Mark Monero as the pig-headed ‘king’ Creo, a ruthless and power mad gang leader in this adaption. Corrupted by his lofty position he is ultimately the master of his own downfall, paying a huge price for the life he has chosen to lead.
Special mention must also be made for the excellent Savannah Gordon-Liburd as Antigone, who handles a challenging role with apparent ease, expertly conveying the myriad of emotions her tortured, complex character suffers with in her quest for justice.
Both they and the rest of the cast have been given a vibrant, punchy script to work with, one which is almost poetic in its use of urban slang, which holds your attention throughout and is wonderfully easy on the ear.
Clever set design, a recognisable modern setting and vibrant urban speech are just some of the many refreshing touches that Williams and director Marcus Romer have brought to this ancient tale, breathing new life into it in the process.
In doing so they have intelligently found a way to engage a modern audience but have stayed true to the play’s original message, for which they should be widely congratulated.
Antigone is at York Theatre Royal until Saturday, October 25 at 7.30pm, with and matinees at 2pm on Thursday and 2.30pm on Saturday
More details on the Theatre Royal website