Sitting down with director James Beagon, assistant director Amy McMonagle, Jenny Quinn (Annie/Antigone), and Emer Conway (Izzy/Ismene), we discussed recreating an iconic tragedy, and the influence of Ireland and the Troubles on James Beagon’s decision to place Antigone in an entirely new world.
A play at the centre of tragedy, Antigone is upheld as a myth about the conflict of faith, family and politics. James Beagon’s new Fringe show with Aulos Productions is a reworking of Sophocles’ play, set in 2019 after a hard Brexit and forced divide in Ireland. Antigone (or Annie, in the case of the play) is, in the words of Beagon, a “religious extremist” speaking against Colm (traditionally, Creon) whose paralleled with the parliament members of Gerry Adams’ Sinn Fein party.
We are all aware of the adaptations applied to well-known plays, whether Greek classical theatre, renaissance Shakespeare or contemporary reinterpretations. Beagon’s rewriting of Antigone draws on traditional themes from the tragedy – familial, religious and political conflict – but places it in the heart of a (very realistic) future Northern Ireland where the Troubles are not forgotten and walking on one side of a street can identify you as either a Republican or Loyalist, Protestant or Catholic.
The team admitted during the interview that “this play makes everyone look bad” It is not aiming to choose a side in the ongoing conflict but highlight the turmoil that does not relent. Beagon and Quinn emphasise the fact that “Antigone/Annie is not a perfect heroine” and very much a representation of one side of the argument. Her tragedy is one of a nation it seems, rather than an individual. A strong focus of the play is the importance of religion within families, and both Quinn and Conway highlighted the emphasis placed on each character’s attitude towards their religion and how it dictated the choices they make both stylistically but within the plot. Their characters’ approaches to the conflict are determined by their interpretation of the religion passed down through the family.
However, alongside religion is the focus on how “Brexit has meant that politics has come into the family home”. A lot of the cast and creative team have family and friends who are connected to Northern Ireland and the Troubles, and so this production is not only making a statement but an opportunity for them to present a situation close to their hearts which they admit is not as well understood by those of us removed from the conflict.
Aulos Productions seem to have used their approach to this tragedy to make a comment on pressing issues through the platform that the Fringe stage provides. In their own words, this promises to be a “modern revamping of the myth set in a post Brexit Northern Island that will not go the way you expect it to go”The story is celebrated but given a new lease of life in the 21st century.
Antigone na h’Éireann
Paradise in the Vault (Venue 29)
4- 26 August (Not 12 & 19)
Image: Aliza Razell Hoover @Unmatiddle