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A CurtainUp London London Review
Antigone at Hell's Mouth

Wherever the strength of a man's intellect, or moral sense, or affection brings him into opposition with the rules which society has sanctioned there is renewed the conflict between Antigone and Creon.
---- George Eliot
Antigone at Hell's Mouth
Cast of Antigone at Hell's Mouth
(Photo: Chris Ridley, Shaun Webb, Stuart Colwill)
Nick Darke's version of the Sophoclean play is a boldly inventive reincarnation of the Greek myth. Commissioned by the RSC as part of a youth theatre project in 1992, Antigone at Hell's Mouth once again gives a new generation of theatre practitioners the chance to perform visceral tragedy in a more accessible form. The National Youth Theatre, in collaboration with Kneehigh Theatre, has staged a creative production full of fresh exuberance.

Set in a Cornwall where today's social problems have been exacerbated into life and death struggles, the cause for Kernow Independence clashes with Whitehall. A chorus of Second-Homeowners wives totter around the stage sipping gin and walking their poodles, espousing English rule and the continuance of their own privileged existence. The New Age-style Antigone is renamed Gonnieta (Kate Hewitt) and her two brothers kill each other in a car race culminating on the Tamar Bridge, the border between England and Cornwall. One brother, Leanburn Bill (Eddie Hancock) is appropriated as a hero by the English government, and the other, Johnny Throttle (Dom Coyote Lawton), is denounced and disgraced as a rebel. Meanwhile, a group of blind archaeologists from the post-apocalyptic future, dressed in nuclear protection suits and with an uncanny ability to time-travel, give a proper sense of perspective to the action.

Modern interpretations of Antigone can rarely resist portraying the struggle of an innocent martyr against a tyrannical autocrat who has the backing of society. This is certainly true in this case. While Gonnieta fights for brotherly love and environmental preservation, the Creon character (Mike Davies) is by blood and instinct on the side of power and privilege. This balance, however, tends to undermine the second half of the action, following Antigone's death.

The design by Chloe Lamford is remarkable. The background reflects the austere beauty of Cornwall's cliffs with skeletal outlines of the birds who represent the threat to Johnny's body. Thin torch beams shin through the dusty atmosphere as the blind archaeologists shuffle and sway across a murky stage. Characters who die have their face smeared with luminous paint, have a puff of powder thrown at them and then linger onstage, just as the resonance of their lives continues to haunt the play's action.

The ensemble cast act with a quality which belies their youth and inexperience. Their energetic performances display a range, as they swiftly and seamlessly change roles. Mike Shepherd's direction is animated and innovative, and thus brings out the best of the cast's dynamic liveliness. This is an ambitious play, with elements as diverse as social satire, political comment, farcical comedy and profound tragedy. However, if you like Attic tragedy spliced with country music and Cornish accents, then this is the play for you.

Written by Nick Darke
Directed by Mike Shepherd

With: Kate Hewitt, Daisy Lewis, Jo Daxter, Kirsty Woodward, Dom Coyote Lawton, Eddie Hancock, Laura Power, Sophie Steer, Sarah Sweeney, Mike Davie, Ben Aldridge, Christopher Langley, Crystal Condie, Helen Duff, Justin Krishna Floyd, Daniel Peter Kirrane, Abimbola Sanu, Brigitte Voutsa
Set Designer: Chloe Lamford
Composer: Stu Barker, Dom Coyote Lawton
Choreographer: Helen Tiplady
Lighting Designer: Malcolm Rippeth
Danny Canham
Running time: One hour thirty minutes
Box Office: 020 7478 0136
Booking to 3rd September 2005
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 16th August performance at the Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE (Tube: Tottenham Court Road)
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©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer.
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