Writer: Lulu Raczka
Director: Ali Pidsley
When all the men go off to fight in a war, what happens to the children left behind? In Lulu Raczka’s compelling re-imagining of the Sophocles tragedy, sisters Antigone and Ismene raid the dressing up box and talk about boys.
At first, Rachel Hosker’s Ismene is in thrall, and frustrated by, her precocious older sister Antigone (Annabel Baldwin) as the latter constructs games where it’s impossible for her sibling not to incur a forfeit. Dressed in layers of chiffon and sequins, the pair stomp around designer Lizzy Leech’s soil-filled set from which they first emerge, as giddy as toddlers in a sandpit.
And then they grow up. Details of their twisted family history emerge, Raczka’s script deftly coercing the sisters’ dialogues to naturally reveal those elements of family history they both know, but of which the audience must be informed.
And so we learn that in the civil war, the girls’ brothers Eteocles and Polynices were on opposite sides – and as the war ends, both have been killed. The city’s new ruler Creon decrees that Polynices, deemed to have been on the losing side, will not receive a burial – a decision that Antigone defies, on punishment of death.
Distilling a Greek tragedy that is traditionally performed by multiple actors plus a chorus into a piece for two women dramatically changes the piece, focusing the story on Antigone’s motivations and Ismene’s struggle to understand, much less accept, her sister’s actions.
There is a repetitive nature to the dialogue, established by Raczka’s first scene in which the same questions get asked repeatedly, hoping for a different, more expansive answer. When used comedically, the device is amusing; as it is brought back with the desperation of an impending death sentence, its tenor changes to one of tragedy.
Baldwin’s portrayal of Antigone, mischievous and carefree until she is forced to make a moral stand, is a captivating one. Hers is a character whose stubbornness – clearly a family trait – is moulded by love, rather than the lust for power to which her male relatives are subordinate.
And yet it is Ismene who truly grows up throughout. The latter third of the play is dominated by Hosker alone – and, while she and Baldwin make an effective double act, it is the play’s closing soliloquies that truly resonate. As Ismene progresses from playful preteen to bride and mother, the shadows of tragedy fall across every syllable of her delivery.
Runs until 1 February 2020