Venue: York Theatre Royal
Roy Williams’ contemporary take on Antigone directed by Marcus Romer transposes the classic tale to modern-day, downtown Thebes. Set in a gritty urban world ruled by nightclub owner Creo (Mark Monero), this version of Sophocles’ tragedy opened its doors to York’s public. The story follows Antigone or ‘Tig’ (Savannah Gordon-Liburd) as she rebelliously defies Creo, who has refused to grant her brother a proper burial. As punishment and a violent assertion of his power, he condemns her to be buried alive.
The modernisation of the text combined with evocative set and atmospheric lighting felt justified and the gangland setting appropriate in making the ancient tale relevant to today’s audience. As Williams points out, this gang culture is violent and aggressive with strict hierarchies where men see themselves as soldiers. On this level, the transposition was successful, but references to Fate and the power of the Gods seemed mismatched with the allusions to CCTV cameras. These were referenced throughout with actors unsubtly pointing to them and live video feed being projected on the back wall. This felt forced and not entirely believable. Similarly, the use of mobile phones and other projections also felt inserted for the sake of modernisation and served little purpose.
For me, the strongest moment was the intimate scene between Tig and her boyfriend Eamon (Gamba Cole) when he declares his love to her despite being Creo’s son and having his mother despise Tig for being an ‘inbred’. This scene offered tenderness and subtlety that I felt was lacking in other aspects of the production. Here, there seemed to be a true human connection between the two characters. This refreshing affinity might, for instance, have profited the scene between Tig and her sister (Frieda Thiel) where one struggled to feel a true connection between the characters.
But ultimately, the production failed to engage me on an emotional level. Mainly, I felt that Tig’s character and motivation was under-developed. And so, I didn’t root for her nor did I feel I understood why she was willing to go to such extremes to give her brother a decent burial. Where the production might want the audience to think of Tig as a brave, rebellious young woman defying authority and standing up for what she believes in, I was not convinced and didn’t find a her a character that I could sympathise with. There seemed to be a lack of truth behind the characters’ emotions, which meant they often felt forced on the audience. This led me to disconnect with the characters’ story and ultimately left me unconvinced.