Sophocles’ Antigone has been adapted on many occasions (I last saw it in the National Theatre’s 2012 production), and it is often ripe for a more modern take. Greek plays are often the perfect subject matter in a world which looks for answers and perhaps something to believe in.
This is what Lulu Raczka’s adaptation for Holy What promises from the first scene. Sisters Antigone (Annabel Baldwin, boyish, athletic, focused) and Ismene (Rachel Hosker, girlish, still, playful) rise from the earth they are lying within as the audience files in. Stirring from a stupor which might be suffocation, which will prove important as the play progresses.
They appear typical teenagers, plotting a night out picking up boys (or “older men”) and getting drunk. Their dress style is youthful, almost childish, but ‘Tig’ seems the more clued-up of the two. Sex is important to them in their fantasies of the future, but despite hints throughout, it is unclear whether they utilise this bravado to hide real physical abuse.
It’s a clever way to ease us into the Greek mythology of war, incest and traditions. The girls are daughters of Oedipus, daughters of sin, sisters so close they could be the same person. Their brothers are away at war with each other. One, Eteocles, is seen as the city’s saviour, The other, Polynices, a traitor, reviled to such an extent that his return sparks catastrophe.
In Raczka’s script the language is modern if the sentiments are not: the rites of burial, the rule of law. The set (designed by Lizzy Leech) is brutal, a rising set of circles with earth piled on top and spilling over the edges, spitting over into the front row, with the strong smell of the natural outdoors.
This setting toys with both the idea that men (and women) come from the ground, but also the decision made by Antigone to go against King/Uncle Creon’s decree and honour her brother’s death. Interestingly, man has the upper hand in this world, not the Gods he worships.
Antigone runs at an intense 85 minutes straight through, with strong lighting design (by Tim Kelly) and a constant low level sound of music and effects, from the pounding of club DJs to police sirens (designed by Kieran Lucas). It all builds to a full concentration on the girls as they almost dare each other onto a path from which there is no way out.
I found it entirely appropriate that as a storm raged through London last night, we watched this clever and relevant play about the choices young women have, and how their decisions cause their own clouds and rain at home.
As Ismene seeks emotional solace with a man who hates her family (“maybe he’ll fuck me/even because he hates me”), we are brought right into her incomprehension on losing all she holds dear. It’s a powerful take on the roles and choices of women left behind in times of political turmoil.
Previous productions have focused on Antigone’s single-mindedness and courage as part of a wider whole. Here, isolating her with just her sister to feed her imagination and offer support, her fate seems much more stark. Yet, the final speech goes to a grown-up Ismene, who has survived, but still “doesn’t understand” and is “scared to follow”.
Holy What are definitely a company to watch in the future. Antigone continues at the New Diorama until 1 February. It is directed by Ali Pidsley. Production photos by Ali Wright.
LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see Antigone.