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Oedipus, Blue Elephant Theatre


Directed by Ricky Dukes
Pros: A brilliant example of how Greek Tragedy can be made relevant to the modern day, and accessible to all audiences.
Cons: One or two moments of slightly “shouty” acting where more emotion could perhaps have come through.
Our Verdict: This production of the famed Sophocles masterpiece is fast-paced and gritty for its entirety, ingeniously proving that the intimidating genre of Greek Tragedy is both applicable to the current day and hugely enjoyable.
Courtesy of Adam Trigg for the Lazarus Theatre Company
This was my first visit to the completely charming Blue Elephant Theatre, a minimally staffed venue in South London which has played host to the Lazarus Theatre Company since 2009. Descending the narrow staircase towards the building’s intimate performance space, I was hit by a wave of incense infused smoke billowing from the open doors. This was unexpected; I was still in the real world, I hadn’t had time to ready my mind for an immersion into a fictional one. The blurring of the comfortable boundaries between real and otherwise followed the audience into the auditorium and revealed itself again and again throughout the performance. It’s arguable that Oedipus is known for all the wrong reasons; a man marrying his mother and fathering children with her isn’t exactly a plotline many of us feel we can relate to (although Freud would argue otherwise). The use of modern desert combat uniforms however, and a spritz of Jocasta’s Coco Mademoiselle perfume, catapults Oedipus into 2013 and our own personal worlds.
The entire set consists of built up pieces of abandoned furniture outlining the central performance area. Elements of this are put to use at times by cast members – a table and chair are extracted briefly to serve as a dressing table – but for the majority of the performance the actors use, and in fact need, only themselves to convey the gritty tale of one of literature’s most infamous tragic heroes. Ricky Dukes has a masterful grasp on the power of the gesture and the physical. In one tableau, the sheer desperation of a plagued city is demonstrated by the simple reaching of twisted hands towards the audience, their bodies restrained by the blacked out soldiers.
The use of smoke and lighting is perhaps the most impressive visual element of the production. Using complete blackouts, torch beams on individual chorus members and brightly lit smoke (clouding the audience’s vision of speaking characters) are just a few of the ways in which Ricky Dukes plays with the concept of seeing and blindness. This is, of course, tied to the wisdom of the blind prophet Tiresias (Joseph Tweedale) and Oedipus’s humane revelations following the self-infliction of his own blindness. These simple but effective visual techniques were enhanced by James Fogarty’s original score, with the industrious sounds of clanging and banging hammering the immediate earthiness of the production into the audience’s minds.
Words, too, play a powerful role, with a bold script juxtaposing traditional Greek form – the rhyming couplets of the chorus in particular – with 21st Century language and references. Perhaps most notable were the allusions to rats in trenches, aligning the work with the horror and filth of the First World War. I wasn’t personally convinced by the light scattering of modern profanities; whilst each of them contributed to a momentary sense of increased aggression, they stood out to the point of endangering the delicately balanced combination previously mentioned. They did, however, add further to the visceral nature of the play’s military characters, and it would have taken much more to distract from the tremendous standard of acting. Nasa Ohalet as Soldier 6 painted a painstakingly convincing picture of the violent suicide of Jocasta, with tears so believable my own started to gather, and the closing dialogue between Oedipus and Creon (Robin Holden and Alec Parkinson respectively) was exchanged with an unashamedly beautiful tenderness.
Whether you’re a fan of Greek Tragedy, or someone looking for an entry into the genre, or in fact someone just looking for an enjoyable night at the theatre, the Lazarus Theatre Company’s Oedipus is to be recommended to all. Edgy, well produced and exceptionally well acted, its hard-hitting nature is tricky to describe: you have to see it to believe it.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Oedipus runs at Blue Elephant Theatre until Saturday 23rd March 2013.
Box Office: 020 7701 1100 or book online at http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/oedipus.

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