Review: X'ntigone a thought-provoking meditation on Covid era

Michael James Ford as Creon and Eloïse Stevenson as X'ntigone in the Covid-era reimagining of classic Greek tragedy Antigone. Picture by Melissa Gordon.
Jane Hardy


The MAC, Belfast

THE very idea of splicing Sophocles' Antigone with a Covid-era drama is intriguing - and maybe even slightly bizarre.

But that is what Prime Cut and playwright Darren Murphy have done in the first full-on coronavirus play, X'ntigone, if you discount Culture Night contributions and the Lyric Theatre's great series of filmed dramas on the topic.

We entered a darkened main auditorium at The MAC, listened to some headachey but slightly Philip Glass noise, and noticed the actor Eloïse Stevenson in a kind of perspex cage.

She is X'ntigone, renamed as a gesture of defiance to her uncle Creon because of his treatment of her brother Polyneices. He's been killed, dying a martyr's death, and for expediency and politics is being left to rot pour decourager les autres. We are presented with this fifth century BC situation in Thebes as a parallel to our 21st century world.

So ensues a tight, taut 75 minutes of high drama. The situation is grim but still horribly relevant.

X'ntigone needs to be true to principle and love and bury her brother Polyneices but the ultimate politician Creon wants to make an example of his nephew, through a piece of callous spin.

The acting is superb from Michael James Ford as the king and Stevenson as his niece. Emma Jordan's direction of this deliberately claustrophobic piece is also impressive.

The only problem from my seat was that the satire about governmental control (and there was a lot of fun about Johnson and co's handling of the virus) didn't really work with the original play.

So although it was entertaining to hear No 10's phrases about 'taking back control' etc in Creon's smooth voice, you longed for them to stick to the original, well adapted script.

Having said that, Murphy is a brilliant writer and has Creon patronisingly calling his activist relative "little lady". There are grisly lines about the corpse too, but the slightly tortured plot device about the king infecting his niece via ampoules in unbreakable glass which she tests agonisingly with her teeth doesn't entirely work.

Yet we exited the theatre into our Covid world having understood a bit more about humans in crisis and the danger of compromise.

Go see it if you can.

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