Brexit gives a new urgency and cutting edge relevance to director John Retallak's thrilling read through of Zena Forster's radical adaptation of prize winning poet, journalist and writer Kate Clanchy's book Antigona and Me.
It's a work celebrating an extraordinary friendship that began at the school gates. It proved life-changing for the protagonists and life-affirming for the audience.
A chance encounter between Clanchy and Antigona – a fellow mother and Kosovon refugee led to a spontaneous offer of work at Clanchy's home: Clanchy needed a cleaner, but their mutual commitment to motherhood gave them an immediate common bond.
In every other way, they were chalk and cheese: Clanchy a liberal feminist; Antigona an asylum seeker raised under the Kanun – a set of strict Albanian laws in which 'blood matters'. When Antigona reveals that her absent husband had tried to sell their 13 year old daughter as a prostitute, her divorced status – so shameful under Kanun – becomes clear.
Clanchy's journalistic curiosity is piqued, and she begins to include Antigona in her Guardian column. As Antigona's confidence grows, she becomes a verbal sparring partner of comparable intelligence and conviction to Clancy. Clancy encourages candour. The result is a series of titanic exchanges in which both parties passionately defend their principles, while skewering the others' inconsistencies.
Jude Thorp's production brought together actors of great skill: Celia Meiras was towering as Antigona, and Rachel Mae Brady's Clanchy was cool and thoughtful – a perfect foil until roused to fury and recriminations. Forster's interpretation of Clanchy's superbly nuanced writing reveals how rock hard certainties begin to yield, replaced by sometimes hard won tolerance and a deep respect for the other.
Between the two women lies not only geographical and cultural distance, but also vests, domestic tasks and the imperatives of child care.
Retallak commented in a lively Q&A session afterwards that he would like to see the play staged in a gleaming modern kitchen, with all the appliances to hand: the sort of set where a tantalising meal is prepared on stage to vivify the domestic setting.
Clanchy, Forster and Antigona were all present: a remarkable achievement and an act of collective conviction in the play's power and importance. To realise this fully, additional finance is required. Crowd funding has facilitated a splendid read through: now more support is needed to allow the production to be staged.
If even a fraction of the reports of random acts of harassment and gratuitous unkindness post-Brexit are to be believed, the staging of this superb, life-affirming play cannot happen soon enough.
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