Interview: Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, “I have a lot of theatre trips planned!”

Ahead of the opening of Antigone, the five-star production that is now showing at the Mercury Theatre, we caught up with one of its stars Francesca Amewudah-Rivers to talk about Greek tragedies and women in power.

10 Questions with… Francesca Amewudah-Rivers

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Francesca. How has it been getting back in the rehearsal room?

Such a joy! I feel very grateful to be back in the room with a fantastic team. 

We constantly find ourselves coming back to the Greek tragedies. What is it about the Antigone story that is so compelling?

The level of escapism and melodrama that comes with Greek tragedy with its reference to mythology lends itself well to theatre. But the tragedies are also rooted in reality and the lessons we learn are timeless. Antigone’s story feels especially relevant to today – she’s a young woman fighting for justice in a system that is against her. I think a lot of us can relate to and learn from her story. 

Is it a tragedy that you’ve read or seen before, or has Merlynn Tong’s adaption been in an introduction to the story?

I learnt about the Classics at school and loved the Greek tragedies, so I was familiar with the story of Antigone. That’s one of the reasons why I was excited to audition. Merlynn has stunningly contemporised the text whilst still keeping it within the frameworks of the traditional storyline. Working with her script has made me see the story in a new light. 

Are there particular themes that this production is exploring?

The play comments on the different ways we process and talk about grief, which feels especially urgent given the pandemic. Women in power and the tensions between the individual and the state are explored in the relationship between Antigone and Creon who in Merlynn’s adaptation are both women. Activism and intergenerational relations are also big themes. There’s definitely a lot of important, hard-hitting material which hopefully will stay with audiences for a long time after the show. 

You are playing Ismene, can you tell us a little bit about her role in Antigone?

Ismene is Antigone’s younger sister. She is the more rational and level-headed of the two, she sees the bigger picture and is able to process her grief through song. She uses song to express the emotions that Antigone can’t. Ismene’s love for Antigone is her driving force.  

What attracted you to the role and the production?

I was excited by the challenge that comes with the scale of Greek tragedy, and I was really inspired after reading the script and surprised by how contemporary it felt. Ismene is able to express herself in ways that no other character can through her voice, and I’ve definitely experienced the power of music as a release, so I was drawn to the role of Ismene, and excited to work with Blasio our composer. 

Is there anything new that you’ve picked up while preparing for the role?

I’ve learnt a lot about mythology. Although the script feels contemporary, there are still a lot of references to ancient history, so that’s been interesting. I’ve also never had to sing solo for a show before, so that’s been a big new thing. 

How has it been working with director Dawn Walton and the rest of the cast?

Dawn is fab! She creates a supportive and open rehearsal environment, which has been a joy to be a part of especially since the content of this play can be quite heavy. I’m inspired by the cast every day. There’s only 5 of us so we’ve been able to get to know each other well, and I’ve learnt a lot from them. I’m humbled to be sharing a stage with them. 

Antigone is running until mid-October, what do you have planned next?

I have a lot of theatre trips planned! There’s a lot of amazing shows on at the moment so I’m looking forward to seeing them after the run. 

Finally, how would you describe this adaption of Antigone to someone considering buying a ticket for the show?

Expect blood, tears and a healthy dose of girl power. 

Antigone is at Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 16 October.