How to Think the Unthinkable
Based on Sophocles' Antigone, this is more freely adapted than the version of Philoctetes which it runs alongside in the Unicorn's "The Greeks" season but remains a powerful telling of the story of Antigone's stand against what she considers denial of a basic human right, that of ritual burial for her dead brother, even though to bury him brings a death sentence.
A modern audience will generally not be so concerned about ritual; they will usually read this as an egalitarian argument: justice for all, friend or enemy, good or bad, a stand against dictatorship and oppression, which no doubt is why there have been so many recent productions (and another to come from the National Theatre shortly).
Craig dispenses with the chorus of the Classical theatre and opens the play, staged on the same sand-covered stage as Philoctetes) after the burial has happened. The audience duck beneath an incident tape to enter the auditorium and a red "Road Closed" sign bars their way across the stage. A fall of sand before the action starts is symbolic of Antigone's scattering of earth and an armed and helmeted guard (Alex Austin) tells the back-story before he discovers that the body has been buried. Haemon, King Creon's son and Antigone's fiancé comes to check on the body and it is clear they are all in deep trouble.
A chandelier and a podium with microphones set the scene for Creon's installation as ruler and a declaration that he will govern without favour, not even to his family. Something he'll regret when he realises his niece and future daughter-in-law is the lawbreaker who has buried her brother.
Neil Sheffield makes a strong Creon, less didactic and puritanical than Sophocles' original, prepared to listen to a future way out of things that his wife Eurydice (Sarah Vevers) comes up. But that only piles on the tragedy. Both play and production drive on the drama, there's no equivalent to Sophocles' often comic old soldier among these squaddies to lighten the mood; this is relentless.
That Antigone sneaked up when Roy (Mark Monero) and Bo (Alexis Rodney) was asleep isn't funny; they know what's at stake. Ponderous music adds emphasis as scene follows scene but the playing of Kanga Tanikye-Buah's stoic Antigone, Edward Franklin's passionate Haemon carry conviction and Ellen McDougall's production keeps you wondering what will happen, for even if the legend is familiar, the text takes it in some new directions.
The straightforwardness and immediacy of this production will help to make it accessible to young audiences but it makes no accommodations to suit them. It doesn't need to. Like the best young people's theatre it doesn't bear a label, it is a production for all that doesn't need categorizing.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton