Paul T Davies reviews Antigone now playing at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
The Mercury Theatre, Colchester
6 October 2021
Merlynn Tong’s version of the classic Sophocles play tears the story from history and powerfully underlines its contemporary relevance. The stand against authority, a society rebuilding itself after war, a tyrannical ruler who does not broach any counterargument, and a grieving sister determined to honour both her lost brothers, these are headlines we can find all too easily today. Director Dawn Walton has a crystal-clear vision of the text, and this is brought to life with Simon Kenny’s concrete, austere design, and some great acting. If overall, I found the production interesting rather than involving, the debate is central stage.
It is astonishing to learn that, playing Antigone, this is Adeola Yemitan’s first professional role, she is a passionate, energetic heroine, who, interestingly, also brings forward the naïve aspects of Antigone’s actions. I fully believed that she hadn’t really through the true consequences of her plan. She is matched by a superb performance by Joseph Payne as Haemon, in love with Antigone, desperately trying to convince his mother to overturn her decision to condemn Antigone to death, until he too sacrifices himself. Having a female Creon is effective, “I am the first woman to ever achieve this position”, but I felt Wendy Kweh needed a bit more Iron Lady to be truly tyrannical, although her grief at the end is highly convincing. As Ismene, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers sang a lot of her text. Whilst Blasio Kavuma’s music is beautiful, for me, less would be more, it’s overused and slows the pace down. Emma Dewhurst is an excellent Tiresias, the all-knowing prophet, a shame we don’t meet her till the closing stages of the show.
At 80 minutes without an interval, the show has yet to find its pace and rhythm, but there is no doubt that it will. Overhearing the animated discussions in the foyer between the school parties on opening night, where the production really scores is in sparking debate, and I find myself returning to particular scenes, a sure sign of a positive impact.
Until 16 October at Mercury Theatre Colchester