X’NTIGONE (After Sophocles) – Abbey Theatre (Peacock) – Review
16 – 26 March 2022
A Prime Cut Productions and the MAC co-production presented by the Abbey Theatre
The original version of Antigone was written by Sophocles in or before 441 BC. It tells the story of our eponymous heroine as she fights to give her brother Polynices, an enemy of the state, a decent burial after he dies on the battlefield. His body will not be sanctified and will lie unburied on the battlefield, by order of the ruler Creon, Antigone’s uncle. In this new version of the play, writer Darren Murphy has taken these basic events and updated them for our time.
We meet the self styled X’ntigone (Eloise Stevenson) as she sits in an isolation chamber. She has been exposed to the virus that has ravaged the land and must wait for the results of her blood tests before she will be allowed to leave. She went to the body of her brother Polynices, who died of the virus, to bury his body. Creon (Michael James Ford), the ruler of the state, visits her to get her to record a condemnation of the actions of her brother. It is ‘Freedom Day’ and he is about to tell the public that the virus is finally over. He wants another positive news story and X’ntigone’s video will help keep the public on side, but he finds that X’ntigone is unwilling to follow his simple request!
This play was first staged at the Mac Theatre, Belfast in early February. One of the main problems with writing a piece of theatre about a topical story is that the public debate can move on at any time. The newspapers are now filled with stories of the war in Ukraine and while Covid is still with us, it is receiving much less attention than before. What seemed prescient even a few weeks ago can now feel dated. Regardless of this, Covid will always be an important event for those that lived through it and this exploration of the topic is worthwhile.
The piece is presented as a two-hander and a battle of minds between the ruler Creon and his niece X’ntigone. While it is obvious we are meant to relate to the radical young woman, it is hard to feel empathy with some of her actions, as they are so radical in nature and could cause the deaths of thousands of people. Her attempts to tear down the existing structures to replace them with a new world order are somewhat confused and it is difficult to understand what she actually stands for.
The concept behind this play is worthwhile and the anti-vax movement and their motivations are fascinating topics. Using the structure of the Greek play felt restrictive and at times needlessly forced. It may have worked better to ignore the earlier work to allow the playwright the freedom to tell his own story. The main point of interest was the performances of the two main actors. Eloise Stevenson was suitably passionate and intense as this radicalised young woman. Michael James Ford was every inch the smarmy politician, as he changed his stance by the second to achieve his goals of keeping power, regardless of the consequences.
X’ntigone: Eloise Stevenson
Creon: Michael James Ford
Playwright: Darren Murphy
Director: Emma Jordan
Set & Lighting Design: Ciaran Bagnall
Sound Design: Garth McConaghie
Costume Design: Tracey Lindsay
Movement Direction: Dylan Quinn