The cast in rehearsalsRobbie Taylor Hunt

Sophocles certainly knew how to pack a theatrical punch. Within 90 minutes, the tragedy of Oedipus Rex features murder, incest, suicide, and the notoriously gruesome gouging out of the eyes. The only sure way to amplify the audience’s emotional response would be to stage another Sophoclean tragedy 15 minutes later — and that is exactly what the cast of Oedipus and Antigone will do next week. The ADC theatre will present Phil Willmott’s recent adaptation of two ancient classics, re-working Oedipus Rex and Antigone into one intense production.  

Director Robbie Taylor Hunt sits down with his cast to discuss their complex roles, offering a sneak peak at his creative production. “We are going for a modern but fictional world.” While this regrettably keeps the cast from donning togas and sandals, it does mean that Taylor Hunt can present all the “gritty action” and “universal themes,” without the topical dilemma. “The analogies through history are obvious and common. We see revolutions on the news all the time. It is always going to be relevant.”

Willmott’s adaptation has its minor differences too, allowing the audience to reflect on these ancient themes in a potentially fresh and evocative light. Kay Dent returns to the ADC stage as Tiresias, the blind prophet who foresees the downfall of the king. She reflects on one of these important differences in particular.  

“Our Tiresias was blinded by an accident and I think that makes her relationship with Oedipus different. When he blinds himself, she can remember and literally feel that pain.” Having starred as Hedda in the ADC production of Hedda Gabler last year, Dent is no stranger to complicated characters, but playing a blind prophet presents a new and different sort of challenge entirely. 

Kay Dent as TiresiasRobbie Taylor Hunt

“This role is certainly more challenging than the other roles that I have played, because, well,” deciding how serious an answer to offer, “I am not a blind prophet. You have to pay attention to all your other senses. It is a strangely peaceful feeling and I can always retreat into that when other people are screaming around me.” Dent perceptively concludes that, for her character, literal blindness presents “a simultaneous curse and blessing of being able to see things that other people cannot.” “Ironically enough,” Laura Waldren (Jocasta) dryly interjects. 

As the conversation transitions into further analysis of these tragic heroes, the tenor plunges down into all the somber tones Greek tragedy has to offer. Performing in one tragedy alone would surely prove emotionally exhausting for any actor, but the horror of Oedipus combined with its disastrous reverberations in Antigone is a formidable task for this cast of young actors. How does the cast cope? 

“They have definitely got a really, really hard job and they’re doing really well with it,” Taylor Hunt affirms. “I’ve rarely had that experience where I’ve performed and, for over an hour afterwards, have just felt unbelievably horrible,” Waldren adds. “I feel so bad,” Taylor Hunt sincerely extends. 

Taylor Hunt certainly appreciates the difficulty of the content and the amount of energy needed, having performed in the premiere of the production last summer in London. “Getting into that mindset, understanding that horror, that self-disgust, and that deep sense of fighting for what is right, and then getting the audience to fully understand the tragedy of it all, is so tough. It has been knackering but it really is coming across.” 

Alasdair McNab certainly seems like the right man for the job. He may never have, as he says, “done the actual thing” (a Greek tragedy that is), but his recent theatrical experiences have prepared him well for the role of Oedipus. This past year, you could find McNab at the Corpus Playroom starring in Steven Berkoff’s version of Oedipus, or at the Edinburgh Fringe, playing Odysseus in Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad. “I had always blocked away Greek tragedy as people wailing in masks,” McNab jokingly reveals. “But now, as I think about these characters, it has shocked me how real these feelings can be, and how extreme it can be. I had never realized how painful acting this could be.” 

With his notorious tragic fall from blissful ignorance into disgust and despair, Oedipus may be the prominent protagonist of the first half. But Jocasta will actually share that spotlight, as this royal couple plays into that “modern day celebrity couple status,” Waldren explains.  “I think that Jocasta’s journey mirrors Oedipus’ journey. There is that same sense of absolute loss. She goes from being adored and lauded to being completely ignored by all around her.” Waldren reveals that Jocasta’s ghost will return to the stage in the second act, taking on the original part of the chorus. “It brings a particular linearity to the play and marries the two halves really well.” “With a fresh set of tragedy in the second half, you’re heart just goes out to her,” Taylor Hunt adds. 

Tom Beaven’s Creon may begin the play on the periphery of this royal couple’s tragic curse, but by Act 2 he has moved center stage as the inflexible, arrogant head of state.  “Creon is a complicated man,” Beaven surmises. “You have got to portray someone who is trying to act like a king, but who isn’t managing. He is multi-damaged. The Creon you see half way through Act 2 is certainly not the Creon you see at the start of Act 1 in some very important ways.”

With that, Beaven highlights what is so special about this double bill production. Not only will Willmott’s adaptation, combined with Taylor Hunt’s leadership, offer the rare opportunity to see the extended narrative in one sitting; with the beginning and the end on stage in one night, the audience can properly consider the development of these characters. “I want the ADC bar to be filled with debate—there should be as many people who blame Antigone as pity her,” Rhianna Frost (Antigone) insists. The adaptation may be bold and daring, but with their clarity of purpose and boundless energy, this talented cast invites us to truly participate in all of the pity and horror that Greek tragedy inspires. 

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