ANTIGONE at the New Diorama Theatre, London
L-R Rachel Hosker (Ismene) and Annabel Baldwin (Antigone): photo Ali Wright

As a French A level student (way) back in the day, my favourite piece of studied literature was Jean Anhouil's 'Antigone' adapted from the Sophocles classic. It had a profound effect on me and I held as a heroine this strong willed, tragically committed young girl of around 15 years of age. Perhaps she was naively obstinate, perhaps far too blind sighted in her resolution and unwilling to accept argument or persuasion, instead standing firm to her point of principle. A strong young female figure to be admired or criticised? Was she a tragic heroine or a misguided, impetuous young girl? 

Lulu Raczka, of Holy What Theatre, has adapted this Greek tragedy and rewritten it from the perspective of the two sisters, Antigone and Ismene. Written in modern language but retaining the epic weight of the tragic tale, her 'Antigone', directed by Ali Pidsley, presents these two storytellers exploring the idea of deconstruction and reconstruction, rebirth and reinvention.

Our two protagonists are from a much despised family. They are the daughters of an incestuous marriage between Oedipus and his own mother, Jocasta; they have two brothers who are at war against each other and they are shunned by all. Now living alone with their Uncle Creon, ruler of Thebes, they are isolated, living out their destiny hurtling downwards as the fates dictate. 

Despite their zest for life, their glitter and sparkle, they are highly charged and terrified of the lives they experience. To begin we see them rise from a circular mound, filled with dust and gravel, symbolic of the ritual grave soon to be dug, of the confines of Thebes and the rituals in which they are imprisoned. It is in this small space that they dream together, role play conversations, fantasize about sex and future love, dance and gambol, chatter and gabble. They have only each other to bounce their ideas against and do so with an intensity, never pausing in their sparring, leaving one breathless as we observe their extremism.

They know that it is unlikely they will fulfill their teenage dreams. Their destiny has been written by the Gods and like their brothers, must be realised. But until then, they will enjoy their dreams and mutual challenges. And so life has continued until they learn that their brothers have been killed in battle and that Creon has dictated that only the 'good' brother, Eteocles, may be buried; that the 'bad' brother, Polynices, must be left exposed outside of the gates of Thebes, to wander without peace for eternity.

'Tig' and 'Issy' are destitute and as foretold, older sister Antigone makes it clear that she will not stamp the titles of good/bad to her brothers as they simply were obeying their calling. She must bury Polynices and save him from his dreadful eternity. Jumping free from the circular confines, she performs the act of burial of her brother, facing the penalty of death by her uncle and leaving behind a destitute sister.

This is a fine piece of acting by Baldwin and Hosker, who have immersed themselves into their roles and perform with high energy. It was almost unbearable keeping up with them as they danced, gyrated and ranted. This was an intense performance and the audience were held spellbound. Coupled with this were the bright lights and loud sounds of throbbing heartbeats, shovel scraping gravel and disco music (I Will Survive) that created a frenzy bordering on the edge of madness. And we too teetered with them as we felt reason slip away and hysteria replace it.
At 85 minutes with no interval, the production was entirely captivating. We were held throughout but, and I regret having to say this, the final ten minutes were just a step too far in their extreme deviation from the original. Nevertheless it was shown that without Antigone, Ismene was a shadow of her self, lost in torment and guilt and that perhaps was the most meaningful of the final moments. Unable to die with Antigone but terrified to live on, she too was condemned.

A story of civil disobedience or a story of bravery, courage and principle? The outcome was fated, inevitable and unavoidable, predicted by the Gods and destined to be fulfilled. Maybe irreverent at times and offering moments of teenage angst, Raczka's 'Antigone'  offers an alternative take on this timeless classic and, produced by Imogen Clare-Wood, certainly offers an original slant, reminding us that these two tragic sisters were only young girls, denied the future they so yearned.

Antigone: Holy What's All Female Reinvention of the Sophocles classic

Playing until 1 February 2002 at London's New Diorama Theatre, 15-16 Triton Street, London NW1 3BF

Box Office: 020 7383 9034