Owen McCafferty discusses his latest adaptation. Click Play Audio for a podcast with McCafferty, with a reading from actor Walter McGonagle
'Has our family not suffered enough – sorrow – dishonour – despair – choked we are – choked with the thoughts of the dead and the sins of the past.'
So writes award-winning playwright and director Owen McCafferty in his recent re-working of Sophocle's Anitgone, a play originally written in the 5th century BC, but which still resonates in conflicted societies at the beginning of the 21st century.
The story of Antigone is one of love, self sacrifice and the pursuit of justice. Thebe's civil war has ended, but with peace comes conflict. Antigone’s brother Polyneices lies on the battlefield where he fell, his burial outlawed by Creon, the King. Should Antigone obey Creon, or must she follow her conscience and lay her beloved brother to rest?
McCafferty originally wrote a workshop treatment of the play during his time with the National Theatre in London. Inspired to adapt the the play in full, his completed version was picked up by Prime Cut Theatre Company and is soon to premiere at the Waterfront Studio as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen's.
It's a venue familiar to McCafferty fans, who may have seen Prime Cut's production of the playwright's acclaimed Scenes From The Big Picture there in 2007.
Antigone is McCafferty's third reworking of an existing piece, after having adapted JP Miller's screenplay for the 1962 film Days of Wine and Roses for the Lyric Theatre and also Eugene Lonesco's The Chairs for Tinderbox Theatre Company.
Working on such a play was a challenge for the Belfast-born playwright, but one which he relished. When it came to adapting the play, McCafferty used the original structure of Sophocle's work as a basis upon which to build, but thereafter endeavoured to 'put my own stamp on it'.
'I have changed all the language in the play,' McCafferty told CultureNorthernIreland during a break in rehearsals. 'The language now, I suppose, is a mix between what feels like classic and contemporary, which is a bit different to what I would normally do.
'What gives it a contemporary feel is that, over the two weeks we’ve been working on it, we have concentrated as much on the emotional journeys of the characters involved as we have on the debate, and that gives it a modern feel, I think.
'Such plays can normally be seen as spectacles. The characters don’t tend to go on an emotional journey. What happens is, it’s just debate after debate after debate, and it can be quite black and white.
'[Antigone] is written in a beautiful poetic way. But what that makes you do, I think, is to watch it without getting engaged with it, so you see it as a spectacle or an event, and I wanted to change that. The play is still epic in that it deals with the state, breaking law and the Gods. But now it also has the feeling of a family saga about it.'
McCafferty's muscular new version of Sophocle’s masterpiece (which the Belfast-born playwright also directs) features a 13-strong cast, including such well known thespians as Julia Dearden, Paul Mallon, Rosie McClelland, Ian McElhinney, Walter McMonagle and Harry Towb.
Edel Magill, Prime Cut executive producer, looks forward to another successful collaboration with one of Northern Ireland's most accomplished playwrights.
'Prime Cut are delighted to once again premiere Owen McCafferty’s work in his hometown. This is an all too rare opportunity to see classical work given a sparkling new immediacy, in a story which has as much to say today as it did in 5th century BC. This production continues Prime Cut’s aim to offer our audiences exciting, innovative and large scale theatre events.'
Check out Culture Live! events listings for more information on how to book tickets to Owen McCafferty's Antigone, which runs in the Waterfront Studio from October 24 to November 1.