Radio Shade: Project Antigone

Newtown Community & Cultural Centre, Wellington

19/04/2006 - 29/04/2006

Production Details

Devised and performed by Sally Rodwell, Ruby Brunton, Ksenija Chobanovich, Jeff Henderson and Isaac Smith
Directed by Sally Rodwell with the ensemble

a RED MOLE production for Alan Brunton

Red Mole’s version of Sophocles’ classic drama is set in a pirate radio station in Hades with its host the enigmatic Firewoman. As the drama unfolds, Firewoman conducts interviews with characters both mythic and historical, including the prophetess Kassandra, the poet Sappho, the philosopher Socrates, and the heroine Antigone; there is even an appearance by the dramatist Sophocles himself.


The production includes masks, puppets, and glorious live music.

Ruby Brunton
Ksenija Chobanovich
Sally Rodwell

Jeff Henderson
Isaac Smith         

Lights - Tom Paton
Audio-visual technician - Peter Winter (also Sophocles)
Video camera - Caz Sheldon

Theatre , Mask , Puppetry , Music ,

Performance art of little consequence

Review by John Smythe 20th Apr 2006

Like The Rolling Stones, Red Mole keeps on truckin’, but not with quite the same following. Two nights after the Stones filled a stadium with affluent fans keen to recapture the carefree hedonism or committed idealism of their youth, Red Mole – who also epitomised the counter-culture in their heyday – attracted an audience of six. But it was their second night. 

Even so, their show – Radio Shade: Project Antigone – revisits the Ancient Greek drama of competition-winning Sophocles, whose tragedies drew thousands to the amphitheatre at Delphi. And their house style is popular peoples’ theatre, albeit infused with the more esoteric overtones of performance art. Their devised text is augmented with the poetry of Alan Brunton, Anne Carson, Sophoccles and Sappho. 

The extraordinarily accomplished musician Jeff Henderson on banjo, flute and piccolo, is joined by Isaac Smith on double bass. They also double as puppeteers – one doing the hands while the other does the voice – and Smith in a frock and old lady’s hat joins a likewise-attired Sally Rodwell to form the old crone chorus of Esmeralda and Matilda, avid for salacious stories. He also appears briefly as Socrates. 

Gorgeous young Ruby Brunton fronts the show as Firewoman, whose through-the-night pirate radio show is featuring special guests who are Greek, dead and have opinions on Antigone, daughter Oedipus and Jocasta’s inadvertently incestuous marriage. She was in love with her cousin and defied her father (by burying her battle-slain brother), and then killed herself, being something of a depressive about whether it was worth enduring each day when death was the inevitable end.  

Brunton has an acting style that’s more attuned to naturalism than agit prop, so her performance ranges from absorbing to awkward. Perhaps it is her own act of rebellion against the counter-culture values of her parents that she makes the show something of a fashion parade (why would an all night radio host keep changing her outfits?). 

Ksenija Chobanovich plays Antigone, Kassandra and Sappho in a suitable range of flowing frocks and diaphanous shawls but always with the same persona and repetitive patterns of movement. Repetitive and meaningless movement also carries the dialogues, played to the front by Brunton and Chobanovich. A pose is struck, a line is uttered, they walk about like catwalk models, strike another pose and the next line is uttered … and so on. Strange. 

Neither of these two can sing but they do, or rather they chant or drone atonally – a style the musicians themselves pick up later on, as if not to show up the ‘stars’. Rodwell’s innate performance skills are to the fore, however, to give us a sense of what made Red Mole so popular way back when. 

The post-modern mix of theatrical conventions that make up Radio Shade: Project Antigone seems dedicated to honouring Antigone for standing up to her Father and the State, but nothing about the way it is done allows us to engage with the dialectics, empathise with the characters or wrestle with their dilemmas. The experience is finally one of watching performance art. 

In the end – or in one of what feels like many endings – a video clip shows a man in a library tapping out a letter on a laptop, to Dear Firewoman. He accuses her of being a man-hating feminist and turning his characters into cardboard. "Must everything have a moral?" he rages. "People like you make me sick!" 

But it turns out this is Sophocles, whose tragedies were primarily dedicated to cautioning humans against the moral crime of hubris. It is Red Mole that has reduced it all to a style-led show of little consequence.


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