“No man can be fully known, in soul and spirit and mind until he has been seen versed in rule and law giving” So said the tragedian Sophocles in his play Antigone. Playwright Roy Williams, inspired by the story, gives us a contemporary version set in Thebes; a dark underworld ruled by gang lord Creo. Creo is played with a cool menace and some scary humour by Mark Monero and his character is a force to be reckoned with. His rules have no soul or fairness of spirit and his laws are absolute – disrespect me and you die. The language of this thrilling play is very direct, of the street, dangerous and at times poetic. Roy Williams has done a brilliant job of bringing this classic tale bang up to date for a modern audience. The audience atmosphere in the theatre throughout is tangible. It seems at times that one hardly dare breath as the story unfolds. It sucks you in.
All conflict is there; Creo's son Eamon, dares to tell his father that listening to the people is a smart move if he wants to stay in power and is expelled from the 'fam' which eventually leads to his tragic death with his lover Antigone. Eamon (Gamba Cole) is superb in this production; all aspects of his portrayal of this Romeo - like character ring true; the vulnerable teenager; the troubled lover of Antigone (Tig); the maturing young man desperate to be loved by his intensely difficult parents.
Modern day audiences will also recognise the Mother- Son relationship between Creo's wife Eunice (Doreene Blackstock) and Eamon as she tries to tell him to stop connecting with the 'inbred' Tig and he back chats her whilst promising not too. A lovely powerful performance by Blackstock, at once caring and yet with an element of danger about her character's personality, born of a hard upbringing herself in Old Thebes.
Tig (Savannah Gordon – Liburd) niece of Creo is very credible throughout as a strong woman out for revenge against Creo for killing her brother Orrin and leaving him uncovered on the street to rot as a warning to others that a similar fate might befall them. Gordon – Liburd particularly shines in the cellar scene where she rails defiantly at fate and the Gods through the CCTV camera trained on her and magnified to electrifying effect on the back wall. Her scene with Eamon before their tragic deaths is a master class of acting where much is said within the silences.
As a counter balance to Tig's angst and anger we have the partially calming presence of Esme, sister of Tig played by Freida Thiel in a superbly understated performance in the siblings' emotional tug of war. Esme becomes the cathartic embodiment of kindness and unexpected forgiveness and generosity that we see at each end of the ninety-two minute theatrical piece.
There is humour throughout the play as we recognise the displays of power struggles unfolding and actor Oliver Wilson puts in a 'blinding' darkly comical performance as old gangster/soothsayer Tyrese who once again tries to tell Creo to have some humanity in acceding to allow the dead to be buried. “... they will move against you, every single one of them. Are you going to throw them all in a dark hole? You might as well throw yourself, you and your own stupid self reproach. This bad bwoi act can only last so far. Believe me I know!”
The whole ensemble of Pilot Theatre's production at Derby Theatre work hard to create a thoroughly engaging world of treachery and danger. Director Marcus Romer's stylish work on this is exemplary as is their trademark use of multi-media within the production. This theatrical work achieved through Derby Theatre, Pilot Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East is a brilliant example of exciting and electrifying theatre truly connecting with a modern day audience.
Antigone plays at DerbyTheatre until October 4th and tours until Spring 2015.
Photos copyright Robert Day
Review originally published by The Big Issue 24th September 2014