'Reimagining Sophocles' Antigone: The cast of Antigone: The MusicalElla Joralemon

Making an ancient Greek tragedy feel fresh and new is daunting. Nevertheless, Marina McCready mounts a valiant attempt in her reimagining of Sophocles’ Antigone. Now a musical, the story of Antigone – complete with a new ending – feels lighter and friendlier, welcoming the audience in with its catchy comic songs and minimalist set. McCready does a fantastic job of rewriting the characters of the original play, giving them new depth. As Creon sings, however, “everybody needs a villain”, and sadly this show’s villain is its structural and tonal issues.

Tungsten Tang’s excellent work as set designer accomplishes the near-impossible task of filling Robinson College’s massive auditorium, all while remaining spacious and light. The minimalist, Greek-inspired columns and vines are tasteful and subtle, letting the band and the actors take centre stage. Situating the band on the stage is also an enlightened choice, allowing for a lovely moment of interaction between the trumpeter and Haemon (Rebecca Williams). The set design works wonderfully with the show’s self-referential jokes and metatheatrical tone, reminding the audience that, after all, this is a play. This attitude gives the show a lot of wriggle room in terms of the musical numbers. Although the lyrics and choreography can feel a bit derivative at times, this can all be forgiven as part of the show’s own awareness of its place as a piece of theatre. Some may say fourth wall breaks are tired, but in this production they serve to freshen up an ancient piece of theatre.

"The group numbers shine, and the small cast manages to produce some lovely, rich harmonies"

Arguably, McCready’s reimagining is even more faithful to the source text than some more high-brow productions. A return to a musical structure hearkens back to the songs of the original Greek chorus, and the brief but well-placed audience participation reimagines the interaction of the Athenian polis. Not all of the songs quite hit the mark; some feel a little weak, but only in comparison to the dynamic potential McCready and Felix Elliot demonstrate in some truly powerhouse pieces. The group numbers particularly shine, and the arguably small cast manages to produce some lovely, rich harmonies. The act I finale was a goosebump-inducing, powerful number, especially compared with the sparsely populated songs in the rest of the act. The production may have benefitted from more spoken interludes to break up the constant singing – but it is a musical, after all.

'Situating the band on the stage is also an enlightened choice': The cast of Antigone: The MusicalElla Joralemon

Where McCready deviates from Sophocles, she does so engagingly. Her reimagining of the characters of Haemon and Ismene was particularly interesting, showcasing their weaknesses and strengths in equal measure. Innovative moments also show a new side of the titular character, especially when Antigone’s façade cracks into fear when she is imprisoned. Sukanya Subramaniyan’s acting undeniably does Antigone justice, but the show really should be renamed Ismene. McCready allows the character so much more room to shine than Sophocles ever did, and Marianne Ryall is simply stunning in the role. Her vocals soar and she presents the young princess’ emotions excellently. A particularly moving moment is when she laments her nearly-lost sister, wondering “who will mend her broken heart”. All of the actors interpret McCready’s script masterfully, portraying comedic highs and tragic lows with equal tact and skill. The audience is reminded of the humanity of the characters in front of them: their familial relationships, their fears, their losses. Together, the cast create some truly poignant moments.

"All of the actors interpret McCready’s script masterfully"

Ultimately, the tragedy of this production lies in some structural and tonal weaknesses. While the solo songs are fantastic at developing McCready’s reimagined characters, their preponderance throughout the play makes it seem somewhat disjointed. The scene changes are expertly snappy, so the audience is sometimes left reeling after an emotional soliloquy transitions into a comedic group number. The comedy of the production is not a problem necessarily; although Sophocles’ Antigone is a tragedy, McCready’s emphatically is not.


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Some moments, however, let the show down. As much as the gods’ songs about the “silly little mortals” populating the stage are hilariously acted by Katy Lawrence, Ollie Taylor, and Jacob Robinson, they unfortunately create a slight tonal problem for the rest of the play. The audience is placed on the same plane as the gods by the self-referential jokes and breaking of the fourth wall, so when the gods ask why the characters are “taking everything seriously”, the audience is left with the same question. The otherwise moving story of Antigone and Ismene, sisters struck by unimaginable tragedy, loses something. The hopeful tone that McCready tries to create cannot quite reach its promised heights.

Antigone: The Musical has big Greek shoes to fill, and it really does try its hardest to fill them. The efforts of the actors do not go to waste: Jack Lawrence’s Creon is as big and bad as he promises to be, Yaz O’Mahoney’s Tiresias is hilarious and lovable, and Williams and Ryall shine as Ismene and Haemon. Unfortunately, the musical’s structure and tone let it down, clipping the wings of a production that was otherwise set to fly. This light-hearted show does, however, triumph in its emotional depth and engaging characters.