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Greek tragedy Antigone comes to Northern Stage in modern day telling

A bold new version of a classic Greek tragedy is coming to Northern Stage. Ryan Watson talks to Marcus Romer, who is directing Antigone

Sean Sagar, Oliver Wilson, Lloyd Thomas and Savannah Gordon Liburd in rehearsals for Antigone which is at Northern Stage until Saturday
Sean Sagar, Oliver Wilson, Lloyd Thomas and Savannah Gordon Liburd in rehearsal Antigone plays Northern Stage in October

What is Antigone? It’s a play that’s two and a half thousand years old, a Greek tragedy originally written by Sophocles.

It might be a play you remember struggling with as you studied it at school, or you might have seen and shouted about it to your friends only to be met with confusion indicating that, because it’s old, it’s not interesting to anyone not dedicating their life to understanding ancient narratives.

However, from talking to Marcus Romer, Pilot Theatre artistic director and director of the company’s current production of the play, what’s really clear is that the true value of Antigone isn’t in looking at it as an ancient narrative, but in experiencing a piece of classic theatre dealing with the universal themes of “love, betrayal and revenge” in order to tell an incredibly modern story about “the use and misuse of power”.

This version of the play is set in the modern day. As Romer says: “By not setting it in the past, we’re not giving it another division, or a distance between the people that are watching it.”

It’s clear that getting this story across in an accessible way is a priority. Romer says Roy Williams, the writer behind this new adaptation, “wants to write a version of The Wire,” comparing it also to Breaking Bad and saying that “those are Greek tragedies told and re-told.”

Roy Williams, the writer behind the new adaptation of Antigone
Roy Williams, the writer behind the new adaptation of Antigone

If quality dramas like Breaking Bad represent the legacy of Greek tragedies, it brings up an interesting point when considering that many of the people intimidated by the work of Sophocles are likely to be the same people watching those things on TV.

“We‘re making a live piece of drama that draws from that stuff, but has a root in a really extraordinary, brilliant story,” Romer tells me.

But it’s not just the script that’s being updated. Pilot Theatre are well known for their innovative use of technology and, while Romer seems to brush this off casually, he goes on to tell me about the use of CCTV cameras in the story – “they’re kind of the Gods; all seeing, all knowing,” – as well as the integration of animation and sound effects into the piece and also the social media component and the online trailer.

But all of this seems to have been implemented in a unique way.

Romer doesn’t make it sound like they’re following a trend, but that they’re simply telling the story in a modern manner that makes sense.

This all serves to further engage the audience. From talking to Romer, what seems most important to me is how much they’re doing to faithfully tell a story that’s already incredibly exciting, but also making sure that they remove the barriers that might scare people away, allowing anybody to enjoy classic theatre.

Antigone will play Northern Stage from October 7-11. For tickets, call 0191 230 5151 or visit www.northernstage.co.uk


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