Northern Soul’s Rich Jevons talks to Pilot Theatre’s artistic director Marcus Romer about the company’s contemporary take on Sophocles’ Greek classic, Antigone.
Marcus Romer has rekindled the partnership with writer Roy Williams which created The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner to take on Sophocles’ classical Greek tragedy, Antigone.
“Antigone is a story that has endured 2,500 years of people telling it,” Romer enthuses, “which means it’s got a pretty good track record. It’s stood the test of time because it’s a really strong story about love, betrayal, death, revenge, murder, jealousy and unrequited love. So you put all those things into the mix and that’s what has given birth to so many stories subsequently.
“What we’re doing is a re-telling of that, not that we’re changing the story but we’re placing it in a contemporary world to allow audiences – who may or may not have a working knowledge of it – to find out a new telling of it.”
As Romer explains, the plot is pretty straight-forward: “Two brothers are fighting, both of them get killed. One of them is treated as a hero, and one is left out on the streets to rot, and not allowed to be buried.” So, you don’t have to strain too hard to see contemporary ramifications? “It’s a little bit like what happened in Ferguson in the States recently where a body was left out there for four hours before anybody was able to get to it.”
It also can be compared to a well-known Shakespearean classic. “Creon and the army decree that Orrin is worthless and should be left to lie there and eaten by dogs. Esme wants to do what’s right for her brother and in doing that she incites Creon’s wrath and pays the consequences for basically disobeying a law. Creon and Esme are driven apart so it’s a kind of Romeo and Juliet with families forced apart by bad blood.”
And then, as with so much of the theatre coming out of the centenary of the First World War, it has relevance to what is happening in the Middle East. “What actually are we fighting for? What is this actually about? And who is suffering as a consequence of that?”
In Romer and Williams’ vision, Creon is depicted as leading a gang who have a live-fast, die-young attitude, with soldiers at war. “It’s about people protecting or looking after their own space and their own area,” says Romer. “It’s not set anywhere postcode specific, it’s universal, it could be anywhere. The action takes place in an underpass beneath a motorway. Throughout the play the ghosts of the story come back to haunt Creon and torment him. This is his punishment, to relive the past and the consequences of his actions.”
Another aspect of the adaptation is that the characters have been given nicknames with Antigone becoming Tig, Creon – Creo, Haemon – Eamon, Ismene – Esme, and Eurydice – Eunice. “We didn’t want to give another layer where the audience couldn’t connect because it wasn’t a modern name, so there’s a more direct connectivity. “
As in much of Pilot’s previous work, the piece is very much about the inter-generational battles that go on in our lives. “The young people in the piece are questioning the perceived authority and wisdom of their parents which is a struggle every young person recognises and we’ve all been through that.”
And the fact that this is an all-black cast has nothing to do with the meaning of the production, according to Romer.
“The original characters would have been from North Egypt. So it’s not about race, it’s about people living their lives in a world that we’re creating. The cast is perfect for speaking Roy’s urban poetry.”
Although the text is on the school curriculum, this is not the reason for its selection, says Romer. “I always have in mind the reluctant drag-alongs and they’re the people who have to go because it’s a school trip or whatever. I want to surprise and enthral them, challenge and absolutely entertain those people. It might be their first and one and only time they go to the theatre so we’ve got to get it absolutely right: a real relevance, connection and authenticity that doesn’t patronise or speak down to people.”
So what would Romer like audiences to take away from the performance? “Pick up an original copy of the script and have a look. Going to different theatre and exploring that. Vitality – you can say things on stage you could never say on TV – much more radical, adult and daring.”
Antigone is at Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield until October 18, 2014 and at York Theatre Royal from October 21-25, 2014
To see Rich’s review of Antigone, follow this link: http://theculturevulture.co.uk/blog/reviews/theatre/pilot-theatres-antigone/