London’s burning in Marchella Ward’s (dir.) latest play at the Keble O’Reilly, bringing Sophocles’ Antigone to the streets of London during the 2011 riots. A wall covered in graffiti with zingers such as “hatred reigns”, some precarious looking scaffolding and fly-tipped furniture fill the stage to create what in fact looks like a genuine enough London back alley – cringing graffiti tags aside.
The task of making a Greek tragedy relevant to such a specific time and place is no mean feat, and Antigone (after Sophocles) should be commended for what is mostly a successful attempt. However, there are moments when the plot grates against its modern backdrop, particularly in one particular scene set on the tube: whilst the sudden and unlikely appearance of characters is all part of the fun of Greek tragedy, when we are encouraged to believe this happening on a tube train, it smacks of incredulity and it’s hard not to raise a cynical eyebrow. All is not lost however, as there are strong performances across the board in the cast, particularly those of Tom Hilton as Creon and Amber Husain as Tiresias, who plays the blind tramp with a control which lets the underlying desperation seep through just enough to make you feel slightly uncomfortable.
Antigone (after Sophocles) is a very smooth production with the Chorus doubling up as stagehands, throwing the set around between each scene whilst remaining in their collective character of a pack of hyena-like youths. This animalistic quality makes the Chorus reminiscent of what our wonderful Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke called the “feral underclass” and who were blamed for the riots two summers ago, but it is unclear whether this is intentional. Indeed, it is also unclear whether Ward’s Antigone is more interested in the story of the riots or in the journey made by Antigone – a ‘spoilt brat with daddy issues’. Ultimately, this ambiguity may mean Antigone leaves you with a sense of dissatisfaction, failing to deliver on some of the political questions it raises. However, the weaknesses in this area are redeemed by the strong performances and impressive aesthetic of the whole production.