It's written by Lulu Raczka and directed Ali Pidsley, both Barrel Organ alumni. They worked together on A Girl in School Uniform (Walks into a Bar) and they have now set up new company Holy What, which I recommend following on the app.
Antigone (Annabel Baldwin) and Ismene (Rachel Hosker) are just like any other underage teenage girls dreaming of nights out clubbing or bars, and rom-com-style encounters. Only they are not. They are princesses, and they are the result of their father’s coupling with his own mother. Their two brothers went to war and are now both dead and their uncle Creon rules in Thebes, a city that resents the sisters and their family’s legacy. No amount of water can wash away the past.
Annabel Baldwin and Rachel Hosker. Photos by Ali Wright.
But Antigone and Ismene have each other. They can face the future together and do it with that raucous, slightly irritating teenage verve and energy that all adolescents exude. Or at least they do until Antigone insists on burying the body of their brother who is considered a traitor by the city, an act forbidden on pain of death. If she was only to say sorry, perhaps her future could be assured after all?
Holy What’s take, played out in a tiered circle of dirt that echoes the ancient Greek theatres, feels both old and utterly contemporary. Pidsley’s assured production uses sound and light to terrific effect. At one moment everything changes, and the world really does tilt. Or at least the lighting rig does. Raczka shifts the perspective of the story too. It is told only through the female gaze and Ismene, the character who mostly has the least voice, has the most to say.
It raises knotty questions about who pays the highest price for principle, and in the final ten minutes Hosker’s Ismene delivers an utterly heart-breaking coda in which she details her life into old age. How do you go on when you are always the little sister, always the one left behind? What do we do with our accumulated histories, all the dirt and shit that threatens to bury us? How can we ever count the losses?
There is never a time when Antigone isn’t a tale for out times, and there are plenty of reasons why it is particularly pertinent now; including the principled sacrifices necessary to avoid climate catastrophe. Baldwin’s Antigone is not just an intransigent teenager embracing martyrdom. She wants to live more than she wants to die. At the end she haunts the stage, a pale ghost of the teenager we saw at the start, so vibrantly, flamboyantly and defiantly alive.
Antigone runs at the New Diorama Theatre until Sat 1 Feb.