Antigone (York Theatre Royal)

Pilot Theatre and Roy Williams transport Sophocles’ tragedy from ancient Greece to the world of contemporary gang culture

In their latest production, York-based Pilot Theatre have teamed up with playwright Roy Williams to create an intriguing adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone.

Creo (Mark Monero) and Tig (Savannah Gordon-Liburd) in Pilot Theatre's Antigone
Creo (Mark Monero) and Tig (Savannah Gordon-Liburd) in Pilot Theatre's Antigone
© Robert Day

Williams has taken the Greek tragedy and moved it in to a landscape he is more familiar with, re-imagining the story in the world of contemporary gang culture, and on the whole it translates relatively smoothly.

Sophocles’ king Creon becomes feared gang boss and nightclub owner Creo (Mark Monero). Anitgone, the sister of a murdered brother whose body Creon has ordered to be left to rot in the street becomes Tig (Savannah Gordon-Liburd) a headstrong young woman who defies the rule of Creo to cover her brother’s body and offer him some dignity in death.

It is Tig’s action that acts as the catalyst for the play, infuriating Creo who, in an ego-maniacal attempt to stamp out a revolt and bring his people back to order, puts everything on the line to maintain the power and territory that he covets above all else.

The arresting opening, courtesy of Joanna Scotcher‘s design, Alexandra Stafford‘s lighting and Sandy Nuttgens‘ music, creates a tense and oppressive mood from the start and promises something altogether more hip and edgy than we have seen on the Theatre Royal main stage for some time.

However, there are a few problems with this updating to a modern setting. The use of street slang, obviously deemed necessary to the authenticity of the translation, is a bit distracting. The sporadic use of "bwoy", "ting" and "innit" not only feel shoe-horned in but is geographically disorientating.

Also, the gang’s use of mobile phones and CCTV to monitor the streets undermines the scene where Tig’s sister, Esme, tries to share the blame for the covering of their brother’s body. As the gang have already shown that they have footage of Tig acting alone, Esme’s noble gesture is rendered somewhat redundant.

Perhaps the most significant problem of Williams’ version is in the downgrading in status of Creon/Creo. As a nightclub boss Creo simply doesn’t have as much to lose as Creon and therefore some of the drama is diminished. It also means that, as there are higher authorities in the land than Creo, some of Sophocles’ main themes, namely state control and civil disobedience, are lost.

A technically impressive and creatively ambitious production which doesn’t quite deliver the drama and necessary sense of tragedy to be completely satisfying.

Antigone continues its tour at the following venues:

4 – 8 Nov: Watford Palace Theatre

11 – 15 Nov: Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury

18 – 22 Nov: Theatre Royal Winchester

26 – 29 Nov: Exeter Northcott Theatre

19 Feb – 14 Mar 2015: Theatre Royal, Stratford East