Theatre has been used as a medium to comment, present and often critique the political climate throughout history, and as we feel current events shifting around us it can serve as a means to illuminate certain viewpoints, or sometimes just to vent. In the UK there has been three general elections in the last five years, and tumultuous times threatened by Brexit. Read the papers and you will hear about the differences in ideologies between the old and young, north and south, rich and poor, and so on. Yet with all these clamouring, angry voices there are a swathe of youths who are all too well informed thanks to the proliferation of information, but are powerless to do so much as vote in the political system that sets their future.
Antigone, presented by the Bristol Old Vic Young Company, is a yell of frustration at the powers that control without listening, and the “you’re with me or against me” dogma that afflicts so many conversations that it’s scary to talk about politics. Antigone, played with burning intensity by Liana Cottrill, sets out in the aftermath of a civil war to give her fallen brother the funeral rites demanded by the gods but denied by ruler Kreon, her uncle, who has named him traitor. Once an enemy always an enemy. But what’s stronger – laws, or traditions? Family or justice? And how far are you willing to go when you’re sure you’re right?
Antigone brings together a talented cast, intense effects and a potent set. The ebb and flow of the classic narrative is interspersed with fierce dance sequences and abstract delivery, with a lot to focus on, adding to the clamour of being swept along. The actors and stage are dressed in black and white, no greys here, which casts an almost Orwellian film-noir pallor over proceedings. There are brief flashes of colour at carefully chosen moments, such as during an evocative combination of flowers, dance, sound effects and staging for Antigone’s doomed burial attempt. Dirt is scattered across the stage, and once it gets on the clothes, it stays on, with certain characters becoming dirtier and dirtier in the eyes of the gods.
One of the most effective tools is the room itself. Taking place in the Weston Studio of the Old Vic, it is part amphitheatre, part forum and part courtroom, where both lawmakers and gods judge, and the outbursts come from all around. The classical nature of play is also emphasised with it’s writing and delivery, with special mention going to Alex Dickenson as a magnetic and bombastic Kreon, repeatedly insisting that his word is law. Kreon’s unstoppable force is up against Antigone’s immovable object (they are more similar than they are different), and though their confrontations are brutal the constant anger can blunt the peaks and troughs, and it would be good to see more range from these talented actors. Such is the nature of classical characters, however, who are often not so much people as symbols defined by their narrative roles.
The BOV Young Company have stepped up to tell a classic tale, because it’s still very relevant today, about the dangers of bad judgement and self-assured hubris. It showcases a gold standard of capability from the younger generation who incorporated a great deal of devised work into the production, and, depending on where you stand, can be powerful inspiration to make yourself heard or a dark warning for when you don’t listen.