Delayed from spring 2020 for obvious reasons, former artist in residence and award winning poet Hollie McNish’s Antigone is an updated version of Sophocles’ Ancient Greek tragedy. The Storyhouse Originals production is co-produced with Manchester-based TripleC, a key gateway organisation for disabled people’s access to the arts and media, and features sign language and subtitles throughout.
True to Storyhouse’s reputation for innovation, the play opens in the foyer with guests attending a stand up comic circa 441 BC, an serves as a light hearted scene setting and introduction to Ancient Greek society, as well as the role played by the chorus leader/messenger (Rachel Merry) , translating the spoken words into sign language but fully integrated into the story as a performer in her own right.
With the audience transferred to their seating in the theatre following the comedic exposition, Antigone arrives on stage and we learn of the civil war which has left both her brothers dead and cruel King Creon on the throne. Creon allows one of the brothers to be buried but rules that the other is a traitor and his body must be left to rot. The brave and defiant Antigone stands up to the King and events soon enter darker territory. The play features several deaf actors including Antigone herself, with some sequences spoken and some signed, and relayed by the concurrent subtitles on a video screen.
Despite being 2 hours long with no interval, the play never outstays its welcome thanks to its talented cast and innovative production methods. The chorus made up of teenagers from the young Storyhouse company are brilliant, commenting on events and themes and occasionally bursting into song. Another familiar aspect of Storyhouse productions, contemporary songs, are used to good effect, so listen out for snatches of Queen, Alicia Keys and The Divinyls “I touch myself” as the chorus muse on the different types of love, romantic and otherwise.
Whilst the plot itself is light and the ending hurried, the interventions of the chorus bring many contemporary themes into play from consent and misogyny to despotic governments. Particularly clever is the chorus’ echoing chants of “me too”. Late on Jim Findley impresses as the wise Tiresias confronting the King, before things run to the inevitable conclusion.
The closing musical number feels oddly tacked on, solely to add something rousing, but at odds with the tragic events that have unfolded. It adds a surreal tone , the equivalent of the Capulets and Montagues uniting for a karaoke party over their dead children’s bodies. “I advise you to listen” says one of the actors at one point, whilst pointing at his eye. Despite the occasionally jarring tone, Antigone is a memorable and innovative production that cleverly updates a centuries old play for a modern audience.
Antigone runs until the 23rd October with tickets available from https://www.storyhouse.com/event/antigone