Review: Antigone @ The Hope Theatre ****

Two sisters, divided following the deaths of their brothers. A king, tyrannical in the eyes of his people and the gods. It must be a Greek tragedy! Staged at the Hope Theatre, Matthew Parker’s modern retelling of Antigone breathes new life into the story in an all female production.

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The cast of Antigone.

The Hope Theatre is an intimate space located above the Hope and Anchor pub. But as Parker himself has said, this does not limit them: it’s ‘a little theatre with big ideas‘. That much is evident in the set, a sort of dystopian bunker, which focuses our attention more on the theme of war and the consequences the actions in the play have on the dramatic world. Pieces of plywood and metal sheets litter the stage which soon become make shift barricades, as we hear sirens and bombs start to fall. As the actresses barricade the doors, you do feel as if you too are a part of this world, locked in with them for the next hour. A wholly intimate experience.

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The cast of Antigone.

Brendan Murray’s reworking of the text for a modern audience is well crafted: you still have echoes of the poignancy of Sophocles’ text, though some colloquialisms felt a tad forced, notably the ‘mates’. Maria Haïk Escudero’s take on the Greek chorus is an interesting feature, particularly the ‘love’ interlude. I’m not a massive fan of this element of Greek theatre, as you may recall from my review of the neighbouring Almedia’s Bakkhai. But the five actresses created a beautiful harmony which fills the space while not overwhelming it.

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LJ Reeves as Haemon, and Amanda Bailey as Creon.

Amanda Bailey shines as Creon, utterly commanding the space and bringing a sense of gravitas in her speech. Subverting gender roles is becoming ever more the norm and Bailey proves just why; I could easily see going playing Bolingbroke or any other leading male or female Shakespeare role. However, while I commend Tales Retold for utilising an all female cast, normally this carries more of a message or reason behind it. Aside from the obvious, repeated references to ‘man’ and law, I felt a gendered casting had little impact with this particular play. Cassandra Hodges leads as Antigone in a part which is a tad two dimensional, though she finds her voice in her final speech. Holly Campbell’s vulnerability in the role of Ismene is incredible and her scenes with Hodges are a particular highlight. LJ Reeves’ Haemon is strong and the tension in her scene with Bailey is tangible. Last but not least, Hester Kent provides the comedic relief as Soldier, though I preferred her more serious Teiresias.

Verdict: With a cast of just five and in the intimacy of the Hope Theatre, this modern retelling proves that big things do come in small packages.

Antigone is playing until the 12th March 2016 at the Hope Theatre in Highbury and Islington. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the Hope Theatre’s website.

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