Alexander Gordon Wood
Sophocles’ Oedipus, first performed in Athens in about 425 BC, is a tale so juicy that Greek tabloid – or should that be tablet – journalists would have been wetting themselves to catch the scoop of King Eddy in this tale of attempted infanticide, suicide, incest, and murder.
For those that have fallen foul of Freud and think Oedipus tells the tale of a young man lusting after his mother, Sophocles’ rendering is more fate-led political downfall than x-rated showdown.
Sophocles’ Oedipus tells the story of a baby left to die on a hill top by his folks, the King and Queen of Thebes, Laius and Jocasta, when they find out he is destined to kill his dada and sleep with his mama. But the babe ends up surviving, and then unbeknownst to him, killing his real father in a bout of road rage on the way to Thebes and usurping both his throne and wife.
Sophocles’ play begins in Thebes, where after ridding the place of a vicious Sphinx, new king Oedipus is desperate to purge the land of a plague caused by Laius’ unpunished murder. Righteous Eddy puts a curse on the killer and also turns to the Oracle, Tiresias to find out who the wretch is, only to discover that it was he who slayed the king. Eddy refuses to believe the truth and, to convince him that Oracles are nonsense, Jocasta tells him about the dread prophecy cast for her offspring and then the subsequent death of her husband at the hands of an unknown robber.
Eddy recalls his earlier crime on the road to Thebes, realises the similarities in the two accounts and so the whole filthy tale of infanticide, homicide and incest spills out drip by sordid drip until the once glorious Oedipus is left a shaking, bloodied mess at the feet of his courtesans, after piercing his eyes with the brooches his wife wore before she discovered Oedipus’ origins and hung herself.
Darren Lee’s production is set contemporaneously; King Oedipus could be a PM while the chorus comprises a retinue of PAs, PRs and bodyguards, plus the skilled use of a trenchcoat wearing Journo and Jocasta, his wife, a yummy-mummy.
Much like a prince who becomes king, Kester Hynds, who plays Oedipus, grows in to the role as the play progresses, but he lacks the stage presence and confidence which construct this Oedipus as a real and regal leader of men. His final monologue, delivered as this fallen hero writhes blinded on the ground, is a static performance with no change in pitch or posture and left me disinterested and waiting for the curtain call.
Creon, expertly executed by Francis Moore, is the strongest player in this production. His performance reveals real understanding of the text and he plays Oedipus’ concerned brother-in-law with depth and sincerity. Hannah Richards, as Jocasta, plays the elegant queen with aplomb, but her performance is marred slightly by a bout of wailing melodrama when she discovers Oedipus is hers. These strong performances just succeed in raising this production out of the amdram bracket but jar with the rest of the troupe who really put the sing-song voice back in to the idea of a Chorus. At times it felt like they had no comprehension of the script they had learned.
That said, the cast tackled Sophocles’ legacy to the best of their abilities. But on the whole Lee’s rendering lacks the poise, finesse and real grip on the script and staging that a more professional production would have delivered.