They say that a good understanding of history is essential for understanding the present.
Step forward Jo Reil and the talented young actors of Norwich Theatre Royal’s Youth Company. This week, they present a play from over 2000 years ago, which they’re sure still speaks to us today.
They are currently rehearsing a modern take on Antigone, Sophocles’ tragic tale of one woman’s fight to do what she believes is right, no matter the cost. It will be performed at Stage Two, behind Norwich Theatre Royal, from 6-8 April.
The story revolves around Antigone, a princess in ancient Thebes. She is forced to choose between duty, family ties and her beliefs, when the King orders that her brother’s body go unburied in the aftermath of a civil war. Disobeying his instructions, she sets in motion a chain of events that will end in tragedy for all the show’s characters.
Daisy den Engelse takes on the challenging role of Antigone, and she explains: “It’s a story of morals. Antigone is so strongly set on burying her brother, and when that starts to unravel, you can see her spinning out of control. And I think that’s very current to today, the way that society reacts to people’s actions as a result of doing what they think is right.”
Jo Reil, deputy director of the theatre’s Arts Courses, is directing Antigone. She agrees with Daisy that Sophocles’ words still have the power to make us re-consider the world around us: “That argument, of faith and belief versus right and wrong, it’s a huge one right now, and a really complex one. I think it’s really relevant to the world today.”
So perhaps Antigone is a play that resonates with these young actors. But Jo has a personal reason for staging this show. “It’s a play that I was in many, many years ago when I was 15 and it’s always stuck with me. At the time, I totally bought into the character of Antigone and her dedication towards her brother. But when I read it 10 years later it wasn’t Antigone that I felt for, it was Creon the King. I realised he wasn’t a bad man, he merely believes he is doing the right thing for the country he has found himself, by default in charge of.”
“The way that audiences can see different things depending on their age or circumstances really intrigued me, so I thought I’d give it a go with our Youth Company.”
Given the on-screen success of shows like Game of Thrones, audiences are clearly willing to explore themes of war and kings. But will the Ancient Greek backdrop be off-putting?
Sam Ings, who plays King Creon, doesn’t think so. “These themes are timeless, because we all have these things in our daily lives. We all have to decide between family and work, between our personal and professional lives, and this is a heightened version of that question. So don’t be put off because it’s Ancient Greek, there won’t be any weird masks! It’s very current, and really quite a touching script.”
Jo adds: “It’s a Greek tragedy, but it’s a very modern version. I did consider it long and hard, especially because the character of the King is very tough for an 18 year old to play, but I knew after the auditions that we were going to do a good job.”
Daisy has the last word: “I’d recommend it to absolutely anyone who loves tragedy really, and wants a good cry!”
Antigone is being performed at Stage Two, located behind the Theatre Royal from 6-8 April, and tickets are available now.