My theatre year is off to a great start with a new company – Holy What – and a challenging version of Sophocles’ tragedy from Lulu Raczka. Interrogating the Greek classic, while using it as a source of inspiration, results in a piece full of ideas and surprises.
The obvious difference is that we see only Antigone – the one who defies the law to bury her brother and is executed as a result – with her sister. In this two-hander, the performers mimic other characters and, in some sense, act as their own chorus. But for me the bigger twist is that both are presented as youthful enough to still be playing games of make-believe. While turning them into wannabe clubbers and throwing in a Beyoncé track might be slightly predictable, making them so vulnerable is emotionally effective and raises plenty of questions about autonomy and responsibility.
Annabel Baldwin takes the title role with a tomboyish streak that makes you wonder about her motivations: how self-conscious is her rebellion? Might it even come close to a tantrum? Yet ‘Tig’ is an appealing figure through Baldwin’s energy, full of passion as well as pondering moral questions. Director Ali Pidsley takes the cue of focusing on the fantasies the sisters act out – imaginary trips to bars and pretend love affairs. These colour the distinctions between words and action that run through the text, as well as the heart-breaking questions of whether or not Antigone should act, and then what she should do next.
Pidsley keeps focus throughout: with Lizzy Leech’s circular stage, part play pit, part burial ground, and lighting from Tim Kelly making the action and ideas consistently guided. And there’s more. Raczka looks just as much at Antigone’s sister – prizes for the remembering the name – Ismene. Creating a brilliant role, in which Rachel Hosker excels, Antigone becomes just as much Ismene’s play, providing a new perspective. And it’s a view Raczka ensures we relate to. A long coda to the piece about Ismene’s future life shows how Sophocles has been used as a springboard to great effect.
Until 1 February 2020
Photo by Ali Wright