Antigone: Interview with the director, Natasha Rickman

Antigone is one of theatre’s strongest and most urgent female voices, so it seems only right to have three strong female creatives bring her voice to life on the stage.

Director Natasha Rickman returns to Storyhouse to direct the new production, working closely alongside producer Helen Redcliffe and this fresh adaptation’s writer, the award-winning poet Hollie McNish.

Natasha’s first taste of Storyhouse was four years ago when she was invited to work as associate director alongside Alex Clifton on Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, part of the theatre’s opening season of shows.

“I love musicals and never have the chance to work on them, so I was really excited,” she recalls. “I just think there’s something genuinely really special about that building and the people who work in it.”

“I feel that This House is Your House is actually how Storyhouse works, it’s not just a tagline.”

It was also during her time on A Little Night Music that Natasha first became aware of Hollie McNish’s work.

“Hollie was the poet-in-residence, so her poetry was all over the building and I loved it,” she smiles. “I looked her up and thought, this woman is amazing. So, it felt really magic actually that I’d found her work that way and then she’d done this adaptation.”

It didn’t take her long then to say yes when Alex Clifton asked her to take charge of Antigone. The creative team also includes musical director Alex Beetschen and stage manager Suzie Foster, both of whom worked alongside her on the well-received Sondheim production.

Natasha explains: “We always have a responsibility when we make theatre for it to do something. But particularly post pandemic, it feels like to put in resources and time and to have that opportunity – being given the space to tell a story, it feels like it needs to be an important one and you need to know why you’re telling it.”

“And this story is about whose voices we listen to, and who’s in power and whether they’re listening or not. But also like all Greek theatre it’s going – given the right circumstances, you could behave as any of these characters. There are no goodies and baddies.”

“It’s about posing some big questions which are things like justice verses love, personal verses public, and saying (to the audience) ‘go to the bar and have a discussion about this, talk to each other about these huge things that we need to be discussing now, in 2021, about our world’.”

If that all sounds rather grave and weighty, Natasha is quick to point out Antigone is also a really good evening at the theatre; an evening filled with fun and laughter as well as the contemplation of big questions.

She says: “What I really love about what Hollie’s done is that she’s gone – what would the experience of watching this have been like for the people of Ancient Greece? Let’s make it like that.”

“Because they weren’t silently filing in and people shushing them. They’d have a few drinks and watch stand-up comedy, then listen to music and then go and see a play.”

“It’s this idea of catharsis – it was law for people to go to the theatre in order for them to release.”

“And if ever we needed the catharsis of theatre, surely it’s now?”

The pandemic has had a seismic impact on all our lives, and as the 32-year-old points out, the theatre industry has been particularly hard hit by both lockdowns and nervousness about returning to the live arena.

Natasha has spent much of the last year creating work online with Oxford’s Creation Theatre, including a prescient modern version of The Time Machinein collaboration with the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities – written before Covid-19 but which predicted a modern global SARS-like pandemic.

“It was really exciting,” she says of online theatre work, “because it was a completely new art form and exciting to have a medium that didn’t have any rules or expectations to it yet.”

So how does it feel to work in the ‘real’ world again?

The director, who originally trained as an actor at RADA, took to the stage herself over the summer, playing Rosalind and Kate Hardcastle for the Guildford Shakespeare Company before returning to the Storyhouse fold.

“It feels really natural,” she admits. “Theatre is about making a connection, and that’s just different when you can be in the room together. I’ve been waiting for it and longing for it so long that it just feels like a complete celebration.”

As for the much-delayed, much-anticipated Antigone?

“It’s really funny and it’s also incredibly moving,” Natasha says. “When I read it on the page it makes me laugh out loud, and it genuinely made me cry the first time I read it. It did both those things – and our job is to keep hold of that.”