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  • Chris O'Rourke

X'ntigone after Sophocles' Antigone

Eloise Stevenson in X'ntigone after Sophocles' Antigone by Darren Murphy. Image Melissa Gordon


Politics, onstage, doesn't always make for great theatre. Or great drama. Or great politics for that matter. The more you see the more you come to appreciate those few who do it well. Others, often blinded by the sermon they’re preaching, seem to believe it elevates, or justifies, everything onstage. It rarely, if ever, does. Landing somewhere in between is Darren Murphy's latest, X'ntigone after Sophocles' Antigone. Dressed up in activist anarchy, Murphy's script might talk the political talk, but it doesn't walk the political walk. Proving less Never Mind The Bollocks so much as Lionel Ritchie's Greatest Hits. Serving up seventy long minutes that feel like a political eternity, frequently leaving you begging for less.

Michael James Ford in X'ntigone after Sophocles' Antigone by Darren Murphy. Image Melissa Gordon

Not that Lionel Richie can't carry a tune. He’s just not who you want to be listening to when you're getting gladiatorial. About to tackle the world in a life or death battle from your prison cell. Purporting to be a thriller, of sorts, X'ntigone can be considered a thriller only if you consider The Three Little Pigs a thriller, the latter having marginally more tension. The murdered corpse of Polyneices, a dead terrorists and X'ntigone's brother, lies rotting at the foot of a statue representing the builders and corrupters of civilisation. His image being broadcast across the kingdom by his uncle, King Creon. Polyneices' activist sister and Creon's niece, X'ntigone, looking to claim her brothers body, is imprisoned. To be released once she gives a statement disavowing her brother during Creon's live broadcast. The one where the king finally announces the lifting of restrictions in response to the plague that ravished the city for the past two years. No points for spotting the allusion, or a ton of similar contemporary references peppered throughout.

Michael James Ford and Eloise Stevenson in X'ntigone after Sophocles' Antigone by Darren Murphy. Image Melissa Gordon

Like a poorly attended parliamentary debate, action lags as Creon rants like a filibuster in love with the sound of his own monologues. Pausing to allow algebraically timed responses from the opposing X'ntigone. Allowing both the establishment and radicals to manifest their corruption, Murphy wisely refuses easy political solutions even as it remains clear where his sympathies lie. In a modest twist, X'ntigone turns the tables, ready to resort to biological warfare for her principles, looking positively dictatorial. Leaving Creon, willing to kill seven people to save thousands, including sacrificing his own son, momentarily holding the moral high ground. Of course it's really about him holding onto power. The moral waters muddying as their power play continues, right till the bitter end.

Michael James Ford and Eloise Stevenson in X'ntigone after Sophocles' Antigone by Darren Murphy. Image Melissa Gordon

Under Emma Jordan's direction, focus lies primarily on the page rather than the stage, the lecturing script presenting very little theatrically to work with. If Jordan ensures Michael James Ford turns in a crowning performance as Creon, a man slicker than beard oil, Eloise Stevenson struggles to the point of overplaying what little physicality she has. Then again, being confined in Ciaran Bagnall's glass cell, and Murphy's laboured script, doesn't give her a lot of scope. Visual optics are little more than tropes anyway. Clearly having an easy day at the office, Tracey Lindsay's workday costumes leave nothing to the imagination for showing none. The older, bad man with the calm down voice displays his status quo politics via his pin stripped suit. Offset by a radical young woman in military surplus so you're sure not to miss her status quo militancy. Then there's the symbolic jacket, there to mix up the metaphors.

Eloise Stevenson and Michael James Ford in X'ntigone after Sophocle Antigones by Darren Murphy. Image Melissa Gordon

Would a hero under any other name sound so sweet? X'ntigone doesn't reimagine Sophocles' Antigone so much as piggy back on its ending. Modifying its cave into a prison as moral, social, and personal corruption is writ large. Transforming the principled Antigone from a brave, female voice defying the state unto death into X'ntigone, a privileged brat vying for power in the name of higher principles. Getting upset if she doesn't get her own way. Just ask the 150,000 people she’s ready to infect. Spouting themes and ideas that are currently relevant, with others recycled like an old hat, and others looking like they were already irrelevant even as they were becoming relevant, X'ntigone aspires to being, ahmm, relevant. And succeeds in the way this year's season pass is relevant. It might carry a little currency right now, but its expiry date looks already near. Not that the playwright has to answer the questions they pose. That answer is often the play itself. Yet when all the back slapping clamour dies down, X'ntigone after Sophocles' Antigone doesn’t prove to be much of an answer.

X'ntigone after Sophocles' Antigone by Darren Murphy, a Prime Cut Production and The MAC co-production, presented ay The Abbey Theatre, runs at The Peacock stage of The Abbey Theatre until March 26.

For more information visit The Abbey Theatre


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