In the atmospheric surroundings of the Umbrella Theatre companies new premises; The Sanctuary (formerly the Mountpottinger Non Subscribing Presbyterian Church) the congregation/audience gathered for Seamus Heaney’s dark play The Burial at Thebes. Heaney’s play based on the fifth century BC tragedy Antigone by Sophocles.
Beginning with all the pomp and ceremony which would accompany a royal funeral the hairs on the back of my neck were on end as I settled into the churches pew under the watchful eye of a large Eagle (soon to become the motif of the production). The actors took their places to discuss what is right and wrong in Thebes and who ultimately is in charge the gods or the government?
Eleanor Shannon plays the heroine Antigone who tries to answer this question does she disobey her uncle in order to give her brother a respectful and godly funeral therefore facing her own death and the loss of her marriage proposal (to her cousin!) or will she be judged by the gods if she does not? Shannon plays the forceful and brave Antigone with passion and fire, she does not shout or become melodramatic but embodies the character as full of life and purpose, even when she faces her subsequent death she does not back down.
Glenn McGivern’s Creon in comparison is loud, brash and a commanding force on stage very fitting for the would be king and we see his character breakdown through the narrative. First introduced in a small office he is respected by all of those around, he makes an almost Trump-ist decree through video but as the play continues we start to see cracks in his armour until the eventful tragic events which arise and his anguish at such.
Supporting characters Ismene (played by Patricia Elwood), Haemon (played by Nathan Martin) and Eurydice (played by Jennifer McCarley) bring arguments from the gods, for their king and for the case of Antigone and their characterisation of workers, messengers and family are clearly defined with physical movements and clever costume changes.
The most surprising performance of the night however came from Paula Byrne who played the messenger, the narrator of the piece. She was playful and joyous to watch, appearing above the stage under the stage and even right beside me at points throughout the production.
At times I felt the text could have done with a bit of an edit to Heaney’s original text to keep the audience engaged and our bums from falling asleep on the church pews but other than that a great first production from the Umbrella Theatre Company post lockdown and I look forward to seeing what the company does next and with their new space.
Emer D xx
Find out more about the Bright Umbrella Company and the production at https://brightumbrella.co.uk/