It has been an amazing experience working with Kendal Community Theatre on Sophocles’ Antigone. We performed in the basement of Kendal Museum: a small, stark, white-washed room with a stone slab floor. As we moved from rehearsal to performance, Sophocles’ tragic story came alive creating an intense atmosphere in that intimate space in the bowels of Kendal Museum.
With an audience of no more than 50, the spectators became citizens of Thebes and were even escorted in by surly cast members armed with Kalashnikovs. Our performance space, arrayed with large old tin trunks, camouflage netting, machine guns, khaki canvas chairs and other army paraphernalia, portrayed Thebes in its immediate post-war state, hinting at the violence of the play. It was exciting to see our director’s creative vision for the production come to life.
Most of these blogs on Antigone have focussed on my personal journey but no actor performs in isolation. At every step, I was accompanied by the rest of the cast. We grew together in our portrayal of this story about a King who forbids a burial. The use of Three-Creons-as-One; each with full helmet mask gave an eerie experimental aspect to the action. For three actors to move organically as one, while each saying his own line, is a challenge. It was mesmerising to see them grow together and become one, while still exhibiting separate and different aspects of Creon’s personality. For me as Antigone, their/his presence was not only intimidating but somewhat alarming. Creon’s dominance increased with every performance culminating in a powerful stage presence.
Our all-female Chorus, in hats and sunglasses, generated a mysterious, powerful energy. Each voice flowed and merged in a haunting confluence as each actress added her own resonant voice and urgency to the unfolding story.
And working with the young actress playing Ismene was incredible. On stage, her passion and intensity helped create a powerful connection between us, sharpening my sense of Antigone and our shared sisterly struggle.
Having lost several Haemon actors on the way, our ‘new’ young Haemon arrived at the last minute to fill the part. He rose to the challenge, portraying Haemon with strong conviction and disarming vulnerability. His arguments with his father Creon brought in not only powerful argument but a sensitive, lyrical quality to the play.
All this was complemented by the laconic humour of our Messenger/Sentry with her wonderfully tatty hat and simple torn robe. A superbly underplayed performance of poignant comedy and evocative story-telling. Every night as I sat listening in the wings, her description of Antigone & Haemon’s deaths moved me close to tears.
Also, in the wings, I was charged with helping transform one of our chorus members into Eurydice, Creon’s wife. There was much giggly fumbling as I attempted to pin a bay leaf wreath-crown to her hair. Wordless but regal, she portrayed the catastrophe of a grieving mother.
The tragedy was brought to a powerful climax by Tiresias’s passion and resolute prophecies. His forceful delivery was complemented by his young 12 year old guide. Her performance was a tour-de-force. Our youngest cast member, she spoke with terrifying authority as she laid out the final punishment and tragedy before Creon.
None of this would have been possible without our amazing director guiding and challenging us as he moulded, cajoled, praised and then released us as his vision took flight. Not to be forgotten is our stage manager/wardrobe mistress/prompt and general dogs-body who rounded us up, kept us in order, pinned our costumes, encouraged and supported us. We couldn’t have done without her.
“This is a strong ensemble cast drawn from the community of Kendal, and the audience’s attention remained gripped for the whole hour… Antigone is a thought-provoking production, fulfilling its brief to challenge attitudes to women, morality and politics. “
As for me, I have already written about the challenge I faced in portraying Antigone. Without the insistent push from our director to take risks, I would not have gone beyond my comfort zone. Launching into the unknown forced me discover new aspects of my creativity; helped me to experiment with new approaches as well as encouraging me to dig deep into what I had previously learned on acting courses but had never had a chance to put into practice.
Playing Antigone took everything I had and was immensely satisfying. I only wish I could have played her for longer. Michael Chekov in his ‘On the Technique of Acting’ talks about seeing an image of your character in your imagination. Weirdly, I see her now not only in me with a life of her own but standing here next to me: strangely smaller than me but fully formed and human. She is, of course, a fictitious creation; a product of an imaginary journey inspired by Socrates and nurtured by myself, my director and my fellow actors. An intriguing journey full of struggle, beauty, passion and surprises.
I’m not quite sure what to do with her now. I’m loathe to part with her and would secretly like to keep her. I feel sharp twinges of loss now that it’s all over. When an artist paints a picture; when a producer creates a film, there is a tangible, permanent result of their creativity that can be viewed again and again. With theatre, this is not so. Photographs, programmes, reviews and blogs are all that remain. The ephemeral nature of transient art is part of its charm. Only memories, impressions and inspiration stay with us.
Antigone is an inspiration. She has inspired me to believe again that some things are still worth dying for; that, even in our cynical 21st century, honour-with-love can be a powerful force for freedom and change. These I can keep. These I shall take with me into the future. But my Antigone-self now belongs to the past. It would be foolish to not allow her ‘shade’ pass on.
Time to de-role.
Time for a final burial.