In conversation with jamie saul
by Tasha Nuthall
Tasha Nuthall speaks to Jamie Saul, founder of Brave Mirror Productions and director of the company’s virtual adaptation of Greek tragedy Antigone. Having debuted with an adaptation of The Tempest at Bristol’s The Island in 2019, Brave Mirror were faced with difficulties when the pandemic hit, causing their musical take on Jane Eyre to be postponed indefinitely. Antigone, a modern take on the Greek political tragedy, takes place entirely on Zoom. Saul discusses the joys and challenges of adapting one of his favourite plays online. The play will premiere on the company's website on Friday 19th March.
TN: What made you decide to adapt Antigone?
JS: I studied Antigone at school, and loved doing it then. [Brave Mirror] have done a few shows and Antigone has always been at the back of my mind as one I’ve wanted to do, but I’ve never found an interesting way to do it, or a way that is new and exciting and different. We were trying to do another show last summer but it didn’t come together because of the pandemic, and so Antigone came to mind not only because the story is really interesting and the characters are so great, but it’s also really modern despite its age so I thought we could play with that.
You said you studied it at A-Level, have you seen other productions of it?
A big inspiration was the Polly Findlay production with Jodie Whittaker, and I think Findlay’s adaptation becomes more of a political thriller. We wanted to use that translation but we couldn’t make it work on Zoom, which is why I then chose to adapt it myself.
You also said that Antigone is quite modern despite being written many years ago - do you think the main themes of the play have any parallels to the socio-political climate today?
Definitely. The world in Antigone is so divided, having followed a civil war. It feels very modern in terms of everything being so polarised and partisan - Antigone and Creon are such extremes of their positions, and there are very few characters who operate in the middle ground. I think that’s such a reflection of where we’re at as a society.
Yes, they’re very powerful figures yet they are confined to video calls - did you find it ironic in any way?
It was definitely a challenge not being able to use the physical presence of the characters, but I think we’ve tried to keep it as
theatrical as we can - I imagine it’ll come across more ironically than planned, but we’ve maintained the power and gravitas of these characters, and tried to find a way to translate that to the online world. I think it’s similar to how political figures have adapted to being online, as well.
The cast members had to film their scenes separately - did you find it difficult to build a rapport between the actors?
Absolutely. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I didn’t quite realise just how difficult! Part of my role as a director is to build rapport with the actors, but not having those five minutes where people are waiting outside the rehearsal studio, or the walks home afterwards, is really challenging. We tried to find ways to bring that back: I used breakout rooms quite a lot, and took myself out of the rehearsals as much as I could. It was difficult to not be able to control the space as I would normally, as everyone was in their bedrooms where they basically live their whole lives at the moment. It took a little while to get to know everyone, but it actually worked really well.
I imagine that the actors had greater autonomy over the staging made the process of putting the play together seem more collaborative, no?
I generally try and give the actors as much autonomy as possible, but it’s had to be more so as some of the things I’d get them to do together in a rehearsal room were impossible to do over Zoom. I gave them little tasks to do over the week ready for our Sunday rehearsals, so playlists for their characters and letters to write to each other. I called it ‘homework’, which they hated! [Laughs] We set up a reading list which was a great way of collaborating, as you could tell they were going away to do research and learn about the play.
Have you seen any recent virtual productions?
I’ve seen some clips of online works, but I don’t think it’s the best. I think the way we’ve adapted Antigone will hopefully work better as we haven’t pretended that the actors are all in the same room, passing props between screens etc. I’ve seen people try and perform kissing scenes between the screen boxes, but I think we need to accept that some things need to be live. I think what we’ve tried to do is accept and embrace the online world.
Notoriously Greek tragedies are quite heavy, so you’ve got the challenge of both making Greek plays accessible and making the production work online. Did you find it difficult considering the material you were working with?
We needed to make sure we were being really sensitive with the material, as it is one of the most consistently tragic tragedies. Credit to our cast with how well they’ve handled it all, they’ve really embraced it all. With accessibility, the translation I based the adaptation on was very archaic so i had to modernise it as much as possible, but there were also some lovely pieces of poetry that I couldn’t resist keeping! I tried to keep the heart of it, but make it work in this modern setting.
This might seem difficult to answer, but what do you hope the audience will gain from this? Would you like to introduce Greek plays to a modern audience, or are you showing them ways of experimenting with newer twists on traditional forms of theatre?
I like the idea of introducing this text: a lot of people know Sophocles, and Oedipus is so famous, yet not many people know Antigone, and those who do don’t like it that much! It’s so well-written, and such an incredible story, so I hope this comes across in the play. [Our theatre company] is called Brave Mirror and we want to reflect the world today, and I think this has been most prevalent in Antigone. As ever, the process is more important than the product, and what matters most is that everyone has a good time making it. We also want to show people that there’s something about humanity in this; we need to interrogate who we are and how we interact with each other.
As the future of onstage productions still seems uncertain, does Brave Mirror have more virtual plays lined up?
I’m hoping we’ll be able to do something in-person before the end of the year. It’s been lovely to have something to do! [Laughs] For me, it’s been so important to do this play as I love it so much. As of yet we haven’t had any new ideas, but if something comes up we’ll definitely do it.