Oedipus the King

(Nash Theatre)


They say men look for their mothers’ characteristics in their partners but Oedipus albeit unknowingly went one step further he killed his father and married his mother. It is a harrowing story, one which we may vaguely know only from Freuds dusty old tomes or somewhere darker in our collective unconscious where archetypes lurk.

Oedipus was written around 430 BC by Sophocles for ancient Greek theatre which served a very different role than theatre today. How then to transmogrify a beast over two millennia old and give it life, breath and meaning to a modern audience?

Director Jeff Zayer has tackled the challenge head on and produced a thought-provoking, emotional and visceral piece of work. It is apparent he has a connection with the material and he breathes life into the play with combination of hypnotic movement from the chorus, haunting minimalist music and blood red lighting.

That being said the first of two acts is slow moving and takes a certain amount of concentration but the second act is powerful and overall it is a rewarding experience.

Zayer says in the program notes that this play was a departure from Greek tragedy of the time where evil characters generally incurred the wrath of the gods, but here a cast of characters with good intentions are mercilessly destroyed. The plot concerns Oedipuss voracious appetite for the truth. His wife (and mother!) Jocasta begs him to stop but his course is unerring, frantic and doomed.

Daniel Grey as Oedipus gives a convincing and disturbing performance in a role which could be easily overacted. He manages to find a brooding tone which conveys the characters descent into oblivion and to the powerful climax, Blind in the darkness-blind!” where he plucks out his eyes.

Eloise Maree is equally good as the Priestess of Zeus. She imbues her voice and character with an almost preternatural charisma and presence as though she really is channelling the vengeful god. Belinda Berringtons Jacasta also hits the exact tone and the chorus as a whole are great in their quite physical presence and hypnotic movements.

The set design is simple and well done. I particularly liked the traditional Greek theatre masks on the pillars which were used by the chorus to good effect. The lighting is simple but effective, just the one blood red hue, visceral as the seeping broken sockets of our tragic hero.

This is a simple and rewarding production featuring some great performances, recommended to those who enjoy the more intellectual and thought-provoking classics.

— Ben Rodney
(Performance seen: Fri 28th August 2009)