‘In this bold reimagining of the piece, directed by Rachael Bellis, the action is set in Durham during the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike.’
Wanting to bury the body of your dead sibling may seem a basic wish, but what if the ruler of the land forbade it? And what would be the consequences if you pursued this course of action regardless?
So begins Sophocles’ Greek tragedy Antigone. In this bold reimagining of the piece, directed by Rachael Bellis, the action is set in Durham during the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike. Creon, the ruler, resembles Thatcher, the townspeople are the miners and their families, and the guards become the heavy-handed and politicised police force. The production is pacy and short, clocking in at just under an hour.
The gender-blind cast, of three, do well in a variety of roles. Creon being played by a woman opens up the Thatcher parallel, which Mary Tillett does with relish, whilst avoiding a too obvious impression. With Soroosh Lavasani playing Ismene, this female part becomes a male miner, returning to work, defeated. Natasha Ravenscroft is excellent as Antigone and provides the play with one of its most affecting moments when she sings the old trade union song ‘Bread and Roses’, familiar to many through the film Pride, and is most appropriate in this venue named after this historic slogan.
There is plenty of appealing period detail in the production. From A-ha to Madonna, the soundtrack is suitably eighties. And there is also more specific detail relating to the strike itself. This includes ‘Coal not Dole’ stickers and the policeman’s plastic helmet, echoing the iconic image of miner Geordie Brealey wearing a child’s toy police helmet facing a row of policemen.
Like any classical play that is relocated in place and time, at times the analogy is stretched a little. But the desolation and end of an era nature of the strike is an appropriate fit for the story. And there is a contemporary feel to this too. The importance of the dispute, devastating for those communities and still reverberating today, has taken on an extra resonance in the age of Trump and Brexit. Once again politicians are discussing these ‘left behind’ and ‘rustbelt’ communities. Bellis explored similar themes in her excellent revival of Fear and Misery of the Third Reich earlier this year.
I am not a scholar of Greek tragedy, unlike my companion for the evening. The intricacies of the form and textual changes are lost on me and I found this an inventive and accessible production.
Editor’s Note: LPT interview with director Rachael Bellis and actor Soroosh Lavasani is available to read here
ANTIGONE written by Sophocles,
translated and directed by Rachael Bellis
Produced by Aequitas Theatre Company
Bread and Roses Theatre 4 to 22 September
Andy Curtis is a playwright who regularly has plays performed in London fringe theatre.