Oedipus//variations on a theme

Tue 15th – Sat 19th November 2011

reviews

Sapphire Elisha

at 17:29 on 19th Nov 2011

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‘Has anyone got the time?’ ‘For what?’ ‘For anything?’ chimes the deceased chorus of Thebans who open the play, continually expressing frustration over their relentless performance of the Oedipus myth. Only this time, fate proves not to be in control of the ex-citizens of Thebes, nor of the outcome of the play that they have been enacting for nobody knows how long. Can actors in the afterlife stray from lines thought to be cast in stone, re-writing the story of Oedipus as they go? Determined to expose the truth, the chorus this time presents Oedipus not as their hero King of Thebes, but as as the murdering, incestuous villain that he is, or was, or could have been.

It is important to be very familiar with Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex before watching this play, in order to fully appreciate (or even grasp) its subtle and clever deviation from it. For those not familiar, BATS has taken the care to produce a plot summary included in the programme notes, which is wise. However, it is also important to put any prior expectations of or ideas about Oedipus to the back of your mind, to avoid getting hopelessly lost as the play twists and turns its way through the possibility of what could or should have happened to Oedipus, the details of his life and his hideous crimes. His chorus of faithful Thebans have performed this tale 2503 times, adding in bits here and there, in order to soften the perpetual guilt suffered by their once adored king, Oedipus.

Visually, there are no props or scenery that might indicate where the action is taking place or in what era. All we know, from a rather sleepy Chorus 3 (Ele Gower), is that it is ‘definitely after the death of Christ’. We can not deduce any more from the costumes either, which range from pyjamas, to simple rags, a velvet dress and a knee length leather coat. Perhaps this is a deliberate decision by writer-director team Ceci Mourkogiannis and Heather Williams, to share with the audience the confusion felt by the characters/actors over their identities, the era and the purpose of their existence. Despite the itchy desire of Chorus 6 (Helena Fallstrom) to re-write history, specifically the ‘tragedy’ of Oedipus, and displaying distinct resentment towards the Greek gods (presumably for trapping them in constant performance of the play, so as to get it perfectly right), an anxious supporting cast resist change to the script, and so we never stray too far from the classic myth. This is definitely a benefit as it allows one to enjoy a successful plot, while appreciating the idiosyncrasies and alternative ideas that have been woven into it, offering us a quirky play that is merely 'inspired by Sophocles'.

‘Oedipus//where three roads meet’ is an adventurous production in that it seeks to unveil a new perspective on Sophocles’s legendary tale. On the whole, it succeeds with artistic flare. Members of the seven strong chorus are at once individual — wearing costumes that are visually unrelated — while being bound together tightly by synchronised body movements and succinct, simultaneous and suitably static speech. Despite this strong sense of unity, Chorus 10 (Jake Alden-Falconer) and Chorus Leader (Fred Maynard) stand out in their theatrical presence, being both eye-catching and entertaining in their solo performances. Jake’s perfectly dramatic vocal delivery and exaggerated gestures lent humour to what might have otherwise been an emotionally unprovoking play. Similarly, Fred’s oversized pyjamas and spontaneous, erratic body movements, reminiscent of Buster Keaton, provoked laughter from the audience.

On a technical level, the stage would have benefited from a more sensitive use of lighting; several times lead characters strayed out of light, even when talking. White light upon whitened faces was not easy on the eyes either. However, this does not take away from the fact that ‘Oedipus//where three roads meet’ is an imaginative and daring play, with a real sense of unity between the cast and a well thought out script. It is overall enjoyable, though a little rough round the edges.

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