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A CurtainUp London Review
Antigone at Hell's Mouth
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.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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