Charlotte Swarbrick as Antigone


Worcester Repertory Company

The Swan Theatre, Worcester


Sophocles wrote his play Antigone in 441 BC but the themes explored in this classical tragedy are thoroughly relevant in today’s world. Hollie McNish’s gripping adaptation of the story brings a fresh interpretation that has many echoes from events in 2022.

The context of Antigone’s story is that, when her father, King Oedipus of Thebes, dies, her two brothers are due to share the throne, taking turns, year by year, to run the kingdom. However, Eteocles refuses to hand over the role after a year to his brother Polyneices, and the result is civil war that brings about the death of both brothers.

Their uncle Creon/Kreon then takes the throne and proposes a grand state funeral for Eteocles while forbidding anyone, on pain of death, from even burying Polyneices, whom he branded a traitor.  Antigone, though, determines to bury her brother whatever the consequence. ‘If I die, I die!’ This was the will of the gods.

The themes explored in the outworking of this story are very contemporary. The totalitarian ruler, Kreon, has more than one obvious parallel in today’s world. The struggle Antigone faces is whether to obey the King or to follow her conscience and sense of obedience to ‘the gods’, whose principle would be to honour her brother in burial. Issues of power, justice, laws, the conflict of values, U-turns and issues of conscience run through the play.

Kreon’s son, Haemon, is in love with Antigone and they are betrothed to be married. His appeal to his father falls on deaf ears, as Kreon considers his public role as ruler takes priority over his family loyalty. Kreon, as depicted in this production, is a highly misogynistic bully, proud, stubborn and inclined to back himself into a corner with his obstinacy. His final U-turn comes too late.

Holly McNish is first and foremost a poet. The language of the play, which has numerous lengthy monologues, is often sublime and powerfully evocative. The style of the piece is written to appeal to a modern audience with its light-hearted introduction; some gratuitous obscenities near the beginning do not mar a powerfully passionate exploration of Antigone’s anguished dilemma. Her passion confronts Kroen’s cold and cynical preoccupation with his own image and power. ’I am the king,’ he utters repeatedly.


Rob Holman as Kreon

The performances of Charlotte Swarbrick as Antigone and Rob Holman as Kreon are powerful and provide the spine of the play. Charlotte managed to retain clarity and conviction however distraught and passionate she became; Rob has a cold, strong and often still presence with an excellent voice for this role.

The chorus of Sophocles’ play is provided by players of the Young Rep who add a great amount to the atmosphere of the scenes, representing the people of Thebes and debating the rights, wrongs and merits of the situation. The use of dry ice, music and simple dance likewise contributed positively. The love relationship between Antigone and Haemon is however scarcely developed in the play.

There is no set, just a number of rostra to provide variation of shape and visual interest. The effective direction, with good blocking, makes the most of this element. The costume design lacked some consistency of style.

The Worcester Repertory Company are to be highly commended for bringing this production together. It has many merits. The collaboration between professional performers and young apprentices, to present a provocative and serious play which addresses universal themes, is excellent.

Tim Crow


Worcester Rep

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