Accessibility is at the heart of the Storyhouse ethos, and it’s at the heart of this new production of Antigone too.
Thus, its writer Hollie McNish has created an adaptation which speaks clearly and cleverly to modern audiences of all ages while behind the scenes every aspect of the show’s physical accessibility has also been considered – for both cast and creatives.
Storyhouse is collaborating with Manchester-based TripleC, a key gateway organisation for disabled people’s access to the arts and media.
The team was brought on board by producer Helen Redcliffe, who explains: “They work with buildings or arts organisations to try and dispel the myths about disabled artists and audience members and to try to break down the barriers, and there are a lot more than I ever realised.”
The partnership began ahead of the audition and casting stage and has continued throughout the production process.
And the discussion between Storyhouse and TripleC hasn’t been confined simply to Antigone. The groundwork done on fully accessible job packs for the production has also gone on to inform the venue’s search for a new chef in the restaurant.
“This is by no means a one off,” Helen insists. “This will start to inform our work throughout Storyhouse.“
“TripleC will be working with our technicians and front of house and marketing team about access in terms of all those areas. So, from buying your ticket to being informed about the production or workshops or the menu. It’s not just about Antigone.”
Audiences will see this underlined commitment to accessibility in casting for the production with both Antigone and her sister Ismene are played by actors who both identify as deaf and use BSL. This has enabled us to explore the language of BSL and has helped to influence the different ways in which Antigone and her sister communicate with each other.
From the audience’s side, accessibility is increased further with two more cast members who are fluent BSL (British Sign Language) interpreters – meaning signing will be embedded in the action rather than taking its usual place at the side of the stage.
Meanwhile expert video and projection designer Cate Blanchard has given invaluable advice on the use of creative captioning and Lee Isserow will be bringing this theory to life.
“But in a video design so it’s not just a caption box,” Helen says. “An enormous screen fills the back of the stage as part of the set so she’s working with this group, and the designer, to make it really impactful, beautiful and interesting and to work with the design rather than fighting against it.”
The other important aspect of accessibility is in Hollie McNish’s retelling of the Ancient Greek story, which is being staged in much the same way as it would have been 2,400 years ago – set in the middle of a wider ‘festival’.
Here, Chester-raised actor and comedian Matt Crosby will tell gags and entertain people in the foyer and bar before each show, before reappearing as compère at the start of the play to set the story in context.
Helen says: “We’re a festival and community arts theatre, there’s always something going on, so that’s why Antigone feels right. It’s just slotting into everything else we do at Storyhouse.”
“And as an audience member it means you’ve already met the compère, he’s got you on side, you feel OK about going into the theatre – and then we’ll hit the Greek tragedy!”
As a producer, she admits that while she’s “obviously happy to sell tickets to anybody” her hope is to fill the thrust stage auditorium with young people.
Not only in the audience either. Teenagers from Storyhouse’s Young Company will appear in the play as the Chorus, sited on apse seating at the back of the stage where they will offer advice to King Creon, and comment on the action.
“This is a really important point about our version of Antigone,” Helen says, “Because we’re talking about people who don’t have enough of a voice, or a voice at all, and who actually probably have the most crucial things to say.”
“It’s about youngsters, and people who are fighting even to just get in a room let alone have a voice within that room, which is what Antigone is all about because she’s trying to be silenced constantly by the male bureaucracy around her.”
“Our Young Company are so vocal about the world and what’s going to go on with it and are looking ahead way more than any of us are. They’re just dying to be listened to by somebody, which is what this whole piece is about.”
INTERVIEWED BY CATHERINE JONES