Philobiblon: Theatre review: Antigone at Hell's Mouth

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Theatre review: Antigone at Hell's Mouth

A joint production with the National Youth Theatre, a musical comic/tragic updating of an ancient Greek classic - introducing Antigone at Hell's Mouth, at the Soho Theatre in London like that will make most people run a mile. It sounds like a production you'd be dragged to kicking and screaming only because a Significant Other has a starring role. Yet the fact is Mike Shepherd's production is good, very good - a mature, sophisticated show to which the traditional youth adjectives of "energy-packed" and "vibrant" can also be fairly applied.

Nick Darke's story for the Cornish Kneehigh Theatre company has the Kernow Liberation Front finally deciding to throw out the colonisers and their second homes, taking back possession of the land, the sea and the very air for the people of Cornwall. The initial clash takes a youthful form, in a doubly fatal game of "chicken" with stolen cars. The rebel's champion was "Johnny Throttle", and while his opponent and brother, entombed still in his crushed vehicle, is to be given a state funeral in London, the bones of Johnny are to be thrown to the gulls. But his sister Gonnieta (Kate Hewitt) has already secured "Johnnny Throttle's Throttle Foot" as a holy relic and is, of course, determined to secure the rest for a decent burial.

On the other side the new "Duke of Cornwall" (Mike Davis), resplendent in beauty pageant-winner's sash, is just itching to exercise his newfound power, which includes the right to inflict capital punishment - such a step-up from being a singer in a fifth-rate cover band with a dubious family past. He's backed by a ridiculous pirouetting brigadier from London and a Machieavellian secretary who coaches him into his role. The members of his former band form his reluctant and ridiculous bench.

Yet interspersing these dramatic scenes of confrontation, which end in genuine tragedy, just as an Antigone should, are delightful comic interludes. Definitely the best are those of the Second Home Owners' Wives chorus, boasting faux posh accents, fluffy lapdogs on sticks, and a nice line in handbag swinging. But Zeus the dog - the Duke/Prince/King's human hound - played in fine playful Jacobean jester style, is another highlight.

The serious side of the chorus is a collection of blind, mystical archaeologists in boiler suits and gas masks. I wasn't sure about their opening of the play, but in its closing they provide a logical finality, and they settled comfortably within the simple but effective staging - the dust to which all will eventually fall plays a central part. The music too is evocative but never overwhelming.

There's barely a weak link in any aspect of this production. Check the full talent list; you'll read most of the names again soon.

The only other review I've found is here.

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