There’s nothing like a modern revival of a classic play to breathe life into some old themes and ideas that are relevant in the world we live in today. This is the case with Roy Williams’s new adaptation of Sophocles’s classic play Antigone, brought to life in a new collaboration between Pilot Theatre, Derby Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East. I managed to catch this brilliant new version on its national tour at its stop at the York Theatre Royal.
The story unfolds as Creo, the King of Thebes (played by Mark Monero), refuses to bury the corpse of Antigone’s brother Orrin, a deceased soldier, in order to assert his dominance; he vows to punish severely anyone who attempts to move the body. Antigone (played by Savannah Gordon-Liburd) stands against Creo and decides to cover up the body, which is then viewed as an act of defiance against the king. Creon soon sends his soldiers to capture Antigone, and she is sentenced to death by premature burial. But when Creo’s son Eamon (played by Gamba Cole) pledges to stand by Antigone, his girlfriend, tensions soon rise – and Creo must make a decision that will change lives forever.
I’ve never seen or studied the original play but this new version, which is set in a grimy, downtown environment, is a way to make the play accessible to a wide audience. I managed to latch on to Williams’s narrative, which was inspired by Sophocles’s original, and became gripped by the fantastic portrayals of the characters. The company work incredibly well together, and the blend of main characters and chorus figures mesh together fantastically, and convey Williams’s updated version of the play very nicely indeed.
But in order for the brilliant characters and gripping narrative to work, you need to have an equally brilliantly-designed set for all of the action to take place in. I’m very pleased to report that the production has one: the design team have gone to town on the run-down, urban environment, and it’s awesome to watch such a brilliant play unfold in such a setting. The lighting and sound blend well together and really tie the play’s scenes together, transporting the audience to a variety of locations – from the king’s private nightclub to Antigone’s cell, where ominous shadows dance on the cold brick walls and add to the dark atmosphere.
This new version of Antigone is a fantastic example of a wonderful modern revival of a timeless classic: it’s fresh, gripping and breathes new life into one of the most prominent works of drama ever written. Not only does it do this, but it also draws out the play’s original themes and makes them relevant for a modern, contemporary audience – and it does an amazing job.
Antigone is playing at York Theatre Royal until 25 October, and is then continuing on a national tour. For more information and tickets, visit the York Theatre Royal website.