X'ntigone: Reworking of the Greek classic tragedy has parallels with Covid pandemic
Belfast's MAC theatre is the venue for a new play which takes its inspiration from the Greek classic Antigone, but brings it right up to date with an exploration of our post-Covid world. Jenny Lee finds out more from Co Down actor Eloïse Stevenson and Dublin playwright Darren Murphy
THE virus has ravaged Thebes. Millions are dead and the economy has tanked. Vaccinations have been administered and the Festival of Liberty is imminent.
Sound familiar? Prime Cut Productions have collaborated with the MAC theatre to bring the Greek classic Antigone into the zeitgeist of our world today.
X'ntigone takes the timeless, universal themes of the Sophocles tragedy and views them through the lens of contemporary society.
X'ntigone (pronounced Zan-tig-on-e) is the niece of the ancient leader Creon. Change is about to happen, but X'ntigone is quarantined and she and her uncle have unfinished business to thrash out before the celebrations can commence.
Exploring what happens when old world order meets a radical new world vision, in this drama political expediency meets the voice of a generation who want to tear down the power structures that have ill-served a crumbling state.
The title role is played by Eloïse Stevenson, from Holywood, Co Down, who admits that the few pages of script and character description she was given at the audition "intrigued" her.
"It is so current and it's the only thing I know of that is brand new and about this time," says the 28-year-old graduate of The Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art in Dublin.
X'ntigone is a fresh and vital discourse for our times, when even truth has been sacrificed at the altar of political gain and avarice.
The themes in this new piece of theatre couldn't be more potent and relevant as we continue to live through the Covid pandemic.
When I ask Eloïse if X'ntigone is the 'rebel' in the play, she is quite forthright with her reply. "I'm not a fan of that word; X'ntigone is more than a rebel. I think she is incredibly brave for standing up, pretty much alone, against the mainstream power and politicians and is willing to be locked up for her cause."
So, would you call her an anti-vaxxer? "No. The play is much more sophisticated than that. It's not clear cut who's the goody or baddy and your views might switch. It definitely gets you thinking about what your own view might be."
Playwright Darren Murphy mirrors what his Greek counterparts have done in writing a play based on the times they are living through, and using the power of theatre to encourage audiences to ask questions and examine their own perspective.
"Greek drama in fifth century Athens BC evolved at the same time as democracy. I don't think that was an accident.
"Live theatre creates a space for the audience to be in the room with those characters and ask themselves what they would do in that situation," says the Dubliner.
Murphy explains that his heroine X'ntigone has an awareness of how the story has been told and retold, particularly by men and wants to change the trajectory of that narrative by changing her name.
"The purpose of using the X at the start of her name derives from the use of the x symbol in mathematics. She wants to intercept the narrative that has been passed down to her and be a variable in her own story," he adds.
Eloïse agrees that while X'ntigone is self-defined and an individual "she acts alone, unselfishly for the greater good and social change".
Although she doesn't have a solution to our current day crisis, Eloïse does believe she shares some characteristic traits with X'ntigone.
"I will question a lot of things that have been happening , especially over the past two years, but I'm not sure I would be quite as radicalised as she is."
With theatres shut for most of the pandemic, Eloise admits it has been a difficult – yet surprisingly refreshing – period for the young actor, who just graduated in 2019.
"Whenever we went into lockdown it did take the pressure off. Acting is so competitive and you do worry about getting work. I love the theatre and if I could stay working in the theatre forever I would, but lockdown made you realise it's not the end of the world if you don't get your audition."
Eloïse confesses she did reconsider alternative careers during the prolonged theatre closures. "The problem was that all my ideas aren't very practical. I did a pottery course so that won't be making me my millions anytime soon," she laughs.
Joining Eloïse in the two-hander is experienced actor Michael James Ford, whose screen credits include Harry Wild, Striking Out and Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie, in the role of Creon.
"Michael has stripped it right back so the focus is just on the uncle and niece relationship, although the story of their wider family history is talked about and questioned. It's like they are in the room, no they are not," adds Eloïse, who is grateful for the "calming presence" of Michael in rehearsals.
And whilst a career in television isn't her main focus, Eloïse has done some screen voiceover work herself – in German.
"I moved to Austria when I was six, because dad got a job there and stayed until I was 19," adds Eloïse, who completed her schooling in German.
"From a very young age I would have performed in German plays and things. I went to a Rudolf Steiner school, so there was a big focus on the arts and performance."
X'ntigone premieres at The MAC, Belfast on February 2 and runs until February 13. Post-show discussions will follow the 7.45pm performance on February 9 and the 1.30pm performance on February 10. Tickets at Themaclive.com.