Review: Antigone, New Diorama Theatre

Antigone isn’t short of drama – war, sibling rivalry, and murder. Yet, sat here tonight, I am baffled as to why this classic tragedy is being played out like a family debating what takeaway to order. Although the company’s execution is far from half hearted, the production itself just doesn’t add up. 

This production has reimagined Sophocles’ Greek tragedy, condensing it to focus on the two sisters at the heart of the story – Antigone and Ismene. With their brothers at war with each other, loyalties are divided and the play’s conflict examines the time old notion that blood is thicker than water. 

Lulu Raczka’s script is the main source of my confusion, with the drama being constantly contradicted by the script’s colloquial tone. The attempt to highlight the character’s childlike innocence against the backdrop of war is not necessarily misguided, but the blend of scenes with immensely high stakes alongside teenage chats about sex and underage drinking doesn’t have the desired effect; the scenes ultimately cancel out each other’s intentions. The structure also seems strange; no gear changes, the pace is full steam ahead from the word go, until a final ten minute monologue which ends so abruptly, the audience are left unsure of whether to start applauding. Whatever intentions the script had have been lost due to a mystifying lack of clarity.  

Despite my predicaments with the script, Annabel Baldwin as Antigone and Rachel Hosker as Ismene deliver performances which stand up against such an intense story. Their commitment manages to pull the piece into the realm of relative cohesion. Remaining in complete control of the action, they build a three dimensional world which is brought to life with a balance of light and shade. Script aside, the play remains watchable due to this duo’s captivating chemistry.

Lizzy Leech’s set and Tim Kelly’s lighting design provides me with the gritty drama that is lacking in other areas. A pit of dirt takes centre stage, with a large, circular lighting rig suspended ominously above. This dark, stylish set confuses me further; how can the design grasp the visceral, raw energy of this tragedy when the script simply skims over it? If my first impression of the setup was confirmed by the play itself, I think this piece could really pack a punch. As it stands, the drama oozing out of the design is undermined by the story. 

There are plenty of stylistic ideas present onstage tonight, many with merit. Unfortunately, the jumble of several juxtaposing ideas means this production is being pulled in so many different directions, that it can never actually move forward.

Antigone is playing the New Diorama Theatre until 1 February. For more information and tickets, visit the New Diorama Theatre website.