Oedipus the King

The Playhouse, QPAC (Queensland Theatre Company)


Professional production

I’ve been looking forward to this production of Oedipus all year, for the very good reason that it is quite possibly the greatest play ever written. Yes, yes, Oedipus , the Greek play with the weird psychoanalytic complex named after it, where boys are supposed to want to sleep with their mothers, the very same. It’s all nonsense, if you ask me, but for those of you out there that are blindly assuming that the play must be nonsense also, I’m happy to say you are quite mistaken. You see, in answer to the nay-sayers, this play rocks. Murder, suspicion, love, sex, plagues, monstrous beasts, riddles, and all this before the play even starts. Then they get stuck into with jealousy, accusations, mystery, prophesies, murder investigation, death, self mutilation … ah, I don’t want to give it all away.

So what happens in this production and will the audience be able to understand it? Happily Michael Gow, the director, has chosen a fresh English version that is more adaptation then translation. The adaptor, Don Taylor, has accomplish quite a remarkable job, finding a lot of humour in the work to help balance all the murder and other things I mentioned earlier. If you’re expecting a traditional version, this isn’t it, and that’s to its credit. Along with the updated language there is a modern stage setting and costuming to help round out what is a very natural re-telling of the story of Oedipus, without any stylised toff language. You get the feeling you’re not just watching some age-old story of ancient Greece but also a very contemporary struggle for a man’s sanity, or perhaps more straightforwardly a great detective slowly unravelling the knot of riddles he’s bound by.

Michael Gow’s sensible direction gets the best out of both space and cast. Somehow he has managed to make the Playhouse seem confined, as in the kind of confined you’re supposed to feel in a play like this, where the themes are just so big it swamps you all. The audience becomes part of the retelling as they become the people of Thebes addressed by their king. And more than anything else, this is perhaps one of the great compliments I can give to this production. It just makes sense, over and over again, which is great. This is rare in theatre these days, and even rarer still in productions of the Greek tragedies.

And yes, the cast. Lead by none other than TV’s Marcus Graham as Oedipus, whose early matter-of-fact delivery had me first salivating, and later at the stage of emotional collapse – well, let’s just say he’s pretty bloody good. He is well supported by Carol Burns who plays his wife Jocasta, whose fancy-free Queen of Thebes was a delight to behold. Paul Bishop delivers a finely arrogant Creon, and David Clendinning makes a beautiful turn as the Priest. The mood of the piece is further enhanced by both live and recorded music composed by Gerard Brophy, whose subtle approach does much to lend the right atmosphere.

I went to see this production with high expectations, and for the most they were well and truly met, and I think the often stuffy opening night audience would agree. Between the gasps and laughs we experienced something we’re unlikely to forget anytime soon. This, ladies and gentleman, was a true night at the theatre. Bravo to all concerned.

Directed by Michael Gow

Playing until 29th October 2005: Wed-Sat 7:30pm

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, no interval

— Glen J. Player
(Performance seen: Wed 12th October 2005)