Pros: Presents interesting contradictory perspectives on the battle between man and fate. The second piece in this double bill successfully makes a classic relevant to a modern day audience.
Cons: The first play feels simply too dated to be relatable. The acting in this piece rather overshoots the mark.
Oedipus Retold is a double bill where playwright Jeremy Kingston combines his original work, Oedipus at the Crossroads, with his adaption of Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannos. It’s this adaption that we see first, and where we meet the tragic hero who’s mostly known today for having a complex named after him. Oedipus is the king of Thebes, a city plagued by disease and disaster. To remedy this, the murderer of the previous king must be found and banished. As it turns out, the murderer is none other than Oedipus himself, who unknowingly killed the king many years ago. He thereby neatly fulfilled the prophecy that he would kill his father, since Oedipus is actually the son of the king and queen of Thebes. As a baby, his mother left him to die in the wilderness in order to prevent the prophecy from coming true. Oh, and did I mention he also married the queen without knowing that she was his mother? Sounds rather farfetched, I hear you say. Well, Mr Kingston would agree with you there, because in his second piece he takes a critical look at the original and comes up with an alternative. Instead of killing his father, Oedipus simply strikes up a conversation with him. Explaining the rest of the play would spoil it for those who still want to go and see it, but I’ll tell you that it certainly surprised me.
The concept behind this double bill is an interesting one. The two stories present different perspectives on the battle between man and fate. Therein for me lies the main issue: the original Greek tragedy is simply too dependent on freaky coincidence to be convincing. Sure, the whole point Sophocles was trying to make is that the gods work in mysterious ways. But it’s unfortunate that storyline requires the inexplicable inability of any of the characters to see what’s right in front of them. Had I cared about the characters, I probably would not have been so frustrated by this. But the ‘high drama’ acting style opted for here involves so much shouting and overly dramatic gesturing that, though certainly appropriate for a tragedy, it also left me feeling quite numb.
I must confess it was with little enthusiasm that I went back into the auditorium after the interval. A few minutes into Oedipus at the Crossroads, however, my worries were soothed. The costumes, the acting, and the storytelling had all gone through a complete transformation. The writing is witty and intelligent, and offers a perspective on the events of the first piece that completely satisfied my inner cynic. The acting is much more natural, which makes the characters more relatable too. And Kingston managed to put a clever, irreverent new spin on a classic, making it speak to a present-day audience.
In hindsight, I better understand the artistic choices made for the first piece; they highlight the differences between the two visions of man’s ability to shape his own future. This unfortunately did not change the fact that I spent the first half of the show hoping that the gods would simply smite all the characters for being so bloody useless. In my opinion the second piece completely made up for that, so overall I’d say this show is worth seeing. Nevertheless, the feeling lingers that Oedipus Retold didn’t reach its full potential.
Author: Jeremy Kingston and Sophocles
Director: Robert Gillespie
Producer: Jane Nightwork Productions
Box Office: 020 7240 6283
Booking Link: www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk
Booking Until: 8th February 2014