Olga Alonso Blanco reviews the Mermaids-Turning Point contemporary adaptation of the Greek classic.
Catching a glimpse of poet Hollie McNish’s new adaptation of Antigone in the Toppings and Co. window, student director Isabelle Cory began to dream about transforming the Byre theatre into an amphitheatrical experience.
These plans evolved into a full house crowding into the Byre on 21 February, ready to witness a martyr’s attempt to restore moral justice amidst corrupt rule.
Moderately familiar with Sophocles’ timeless tale, I arrived with a lingering scepticism on the degree to which the audience would be able to engage with the complex classical text. This was discarded the minute I descended the steps down to the changing rooms.
The diverse scope of costumes rendered a fusion of the classic and modern, a mixture which dominated the play. The costume choices catered to all; the neutral colours and fleecy materials preserved a traditional look, yet our attention would sporadically be caught by the appearance of a suit and tie, one that wouldn’t be uncommon at a 601 sport night. These aesthetics served as a constant reminder to ruminate on the play’s classic themes through a modern lens.
The curtains rose. Instantly, the fourth wall shattered as all women were beckoned out of their seats. Onstage, they reminded us that, as diligent members of an ancient Greek audience, we were lucky to be allowed in. It intimately linked the audience with the play’s recurring theme: the societal struggles of womanhood.
Antigone, played by Ellie Mckay, epitomises this constant tension. Her rebellion persists against King Kreon’s ambivalent law. Mckay’s characterisation of Antigone embraced a holistic idea of womanhood. She yearns to one day be it all: a good wife, virtuous mother, and enriched intellectual citizen.
“I would take my own coins from my own purse”; her emotional last words profoundly amplified the struggles of so many, raising awareness of the fight for economic and social gender equality.
The divine ruler of Thebes, King Kreon, was played by Buster van der Geest. His strong, reactionary mannerisms perfectly portrayed the character as a buffoonish, suited up politician (frightfully mimicking one too many of today’s public figures).
Now for the comedic relief: here comes the Chorus! The group was played by Nina Koshy, Dylan Swain, Piper May, Lauryn Perkins-Monney and Louise Mountbatten-Windsor. Rather than portraying a voiceless mob as in other adaptations of the classic, the Chorus’ role in McNish’s adaptation was lively and dynamic. We witnessed them mature from marginalised spectators of Kreon’s rule to agents of reform. In particular, their vivacious take on Sam Cooke’s ‘Cupid’ uplifted the audience's spirits as it provided a juncture between the earnest dialogue. They represented the changing nature of the general populous, evolving beautifully from dutiful extensions of Kreon’s order to active questioners of justice.
An eerie green light invaded the stage as Tiresias entered. A quintessential Greek character, his flawlessly and meticulously performed monologue watched him take a last stand against Kreon, leaving the audience flustered. Actor Aubrey McCance claimed that he decided to tackle the role due to its deep historical roots, ones poignantly present in his performance. His slow, menacing movement conveyed his character reaching a breaking point — a final confrontation with King Kreon’s autocracy and a definite highlight of the show.
The casting choices cleverly sought to prioritise the essence of the characters rather than stick to the common perceptions of gender. Antigone’s sister, Ismene, was played by actor Marcus Judd, whilst the character of Haemon, her partner and son of King Kreon, was undertaken by actress Margot Pue. Their physicality did both roles justice, pushing conventional boundaries of theatre casting.
The storyline savoured the tumultuous themes of love, death, and defiance through an entirely immersive experience. The dialogue was often performed directly to and for the audience, meaning that you could clearly feel their focus on us. This made a complex, dense story incredibly accessible. From the very start — where two actors started quarrelling from within the audience and were escorted out — we were made to feel like stars of the show.
Speaking with Cory before the show, she told me that her aim was “for everyone to feel catharsis, hopeful but emotionally exhausted as they leave”. An element of emotional torment was undeniably achieved; the violent ups and downs of the action left me in a state of unsettled tranquillity.
Co-founder of Turning Point, a female-led, “cool and independent” theatre company (as proclaimed by the Cory enthusiast sat beside me in the audience), she stressed how all aspects of production were designed to engage a modern audience in this Greek classic.
She revealed that these creative intentions were clear from the start, whilst the aesthetics rather grew throughout the rehearsal process. I could spot this in the attention to lighting and staging, crafted to provoke a whirlwind of polarising feelings. The recurring contrasts of classic versus modern and spirited versus solemn inspired introspective thought.
As I left, I couldn’t help but think — if only more Toppings trips were so fruitful!
Photos: Olga Alonso Blanco