Behind these tantalising titles lurk more familiar names: Philoctetes and Antigone. In an astute move, London’s Unicorn Theatre has mounted a Greek season, pairing up Sophocles’ ancient dramas in new adaptations tailored to young audiences. They work admirably together – both deal with dilemmas surrounding loyalty, integrity and deception that any child or teenager would recognise – and they are delivered with a degree of cheeky wit that doesn’t obscure their power.
In The Man with the Disturbingly Smelly Foot, Nancy Harris gleefully reworks Philoctetes for the seven to 10-year-old age group. Odysseus and Neoptolemus land on a remote island with a view to catching up with Philoctetes, whom Odysseus previously abandoned on account of his injured, foul-smelling foot. But the Trojan war is now dragging on and Odysseus finds that he could use Philoctetes’s magic bow. Odysseus, a cunning type (played enjoyably by Alexis Rodney), leaves it to Neoptolemus to get hold of the weapon ...
Harris has a fine sense of her audience’s enthusiasm for gross-out humour, but also draws out the serious ethical questions. Mark Monero is excellent as the gravelly voiced Philoctetes, as is Alex Austin as the gawky Neoptolemus, who has to make his own decisions.
Principle and pragmatism come to the fore in How to Think the Unthinkable, Ryan Craig’s Antigone adaptation for 11 to 14-year-olds. Here two resolute individuals – King Creon (Neil Sheffield) and Antigone (Kanga Tanikye-Buah) – face each other down: she wants to bury her dead brother; he decrees that, as a traitor, he must lie unburied.
The tone is less certain than in the companion play: Craig sprinkles in dark comedy, but can’t quite avoid a whiff of melodrama in the bloody conclusion. He winds the moral corkscrew well, though, and adds a twist of dramatic irony to underscore the inexorability of the tragic outcome.