A defiant young woman imprisoned in a perspex cube no longer wants to be called Antigone. Darren Murphy’s new adaptation of the Greek tragedy seems similarly ambivalent about its origins, as if unsure whether to shrug off the original entirely. In his reduced version, subtitled “after Sophocles”, the city of Thebes has been ravaged by a dangerous virus. During this state of emergency, X’ntigone (Eloise Stevenson) has joined a resistance movement against her uncle Creon’s government. About to proclaim Freedom Day, Creon (Michael James Ford) promises to release her if she denounces her dead brother as a traitor.
Emma Jordan’s sleek production for Belfast’s Prime Cut and the Mac has a futuristic edge, with Ciaran Bagnall’s design suggesting an art gallery where seductive technology enables new forms of surveillance and control. In an intense confrontation between uncle and niece, each accuses the other of “weaponising” the virus. Bristling with references to culture wars, including plans to destroy statues of dead statesmen, intergenerational conflict is the central theme here, powerfully portrayed. X’ntigone’s disgust at Creon’s cynicism is expressed in Stevenson’s physical revulsion, while Ford’s tone is smoothly supercilious, mocking her new “playground name”.
Amid the focus on political spin, the central drama of conscience drifts far out of sight through over complication. Issues are piled on, from biological warfare to corruption, with the Oedipus family backstory adding layers of murkiness. Threatening to release a lethal new strain of the virus, X’ntigone says: “Sometimes you need to destroy the world because the world is broken.” It is a nihilistic credo, bleakly shifting the moral balance of the play’s arguments, so that the only choices left are between different degrees of destructiveness.