Adaptor: Christopher Adams
Director: Tamsin Shasha
Reviewer: Lizz Clark
What will change in the future, and what will stay the same? Taking an ancient story into the next century and beyond, Actors of Dionysus show us that Antigone‘s themes are timeless and universal: family, pride, and power. In the aftermath of a bloody conflict, new ruler Creon labels his dead enemy – who is also his nephew – a traitor. Polyneices’ body is not to be buried, per royal command. But his sister Antigone is determined to set his soul to rest.
The story is framed by, essentially, an internet search: cyborg ‘archivists’ retrieve cultural records and become characters by acting out chunks of history. They reappear in the story as characters mine them for information. It’s an interesting conceit – what would these characters have googled when trying to cope with the tragic events around them?
Along with the information cyborgs, there are surveillance drones, gesture-controlled computers and voice-activated commands that function like an oath to the ancient Greek gods. Then there’s the central piece of cultural translation: where in the original, Polyneices’ body must be buried so that his soul can be at rest, here in the future he must be ‘put to rest’ by the removal of his consciousness-chip, which is held in a repeating pattern of torment. The idea works, and the cast convince us of the power of the tiny, glowing chip, although this thread of the story drops out somewhere before the tragic conclusion.
It’s high-concept stuff, but it ought to be thought through more carefully. The grungy neo-industrial set and bleep-laden sound design are too reminiscent of Robot Wars at times. Several performances are weak. Creon (Nicholas Cass-Beggs) is shouty and lacks gravitas, and Antigone (Holly Georgia) struggles to convey the powerful conviction behind her actions. By far the standout performer, Crystal Brown shows subtlety and versatility in playing both the tragic mother Eurydice and the prophetic hacker Teiresias.
Sophocles’ source material is strong, and so is the idea of transplanting it to a computerised future, but the production misses as many notes as it hits. Christopher Andrews’ script works well when it is integrating the technological innovations – drones are ‘birds’, programmable oaths are set by the fateful phrase ‘enter the command’ – but struggles to cope with the raw emotions of the tragic genre. And for some reason there are numerous attempts at comedy, which shatter the atmosphere. This bold production isn’t executed as well as it deserves to be.
Runs until 10th October 2017 | Image: Alex Brenner