Children of Oedipus- Reviews contain spoilers!

Wed 26th – Sat 29th October 2011

reviews

Alex Fisher

at 23:33 on 26th Oct 2011

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Greek tragedy is not easy to adapt especially for a small theatre, but Arabella Currie's re-working of Euripides' 'Phoenician Women' is an adequate response to the increasing interest in the Classics. Currie claims that the choice to set the play in the modern theatre becomes a necessity when watching adaptations of Greek tragedy, but having seen the performance I disagree. Initially, the juxtaposition of the modern day with the Ancient Greek was jarring - the discussion of the siege of Thebes was out of place in what looked like a mid-twentieth century, middle class living room with frayed costume to match. Yet this awkward fusion was soon dissipated as the narrative picked up momentum.

As an ensemble, the movement was well choreographed and this was one of the play's strongest points thereby making the conclusion a success. Whilst one may find the Greek spoken by Ada Gafter-O'Higgins (Oedipus) at the end alienating it has a chilling resonance, highlighting the lack communication between each of the characters. Yet it is not just an aural barrier between the characters but a visual one too - sight becomes a powerful metaphor. The dead characters at the end are brought back as messengers fashioning black blindfolds to highlight they are no longer a part of this world. Oedipus wears a white blindfold showing that he is not dead but still removed from the vast majority of the action whilst Tiresias (Ella Cory-Wright) is simply blind. It works exceptionally well.

Yet, the real force came in the moments of understated emotion. The old phrase 'less is more' was certainly applicable for there were too many moments when strong emotion was seemingly misdirected and served to cheapen the tension. Moreover, there was a resistance to silence on stage. A rhythmic drum offsets the power of Jocasta’s (Caitlin McMillan) slow waltz around the stage at the beginning and this is not the only time that the beat is used to cover up the silence. Think of the power of the Pinter-esque pause – it is to be commanded to great effect and not feared.

Overall, the cast made a pleasing attempt to bring the adaptation to life. Uday Raj Anand excelled as the tutor perfectly combining the role of the stand-in father and humble teacher and Currie made the right decision to expand the role from the original. With the character of Antigone (Victoria Princewill) there was something lost in translation. It was not made clear she was repeatedly celebrating her seventh birthday and therefore having a child-like figure in an otherwise grown up world was rather bizarre. However, her role in the conclusion serves to make her role clear – it is only with a child’s perspective of the world can one speak with clarity. However, I fail to understand why Polyneices (Hannah Gliksten) and Eteocles (Helen Slaney), otherwise good actresses, are characterised as schoolboys who rule by the law of the playground. In spite of this, their performance as the messengers is particularly noteworthy. The brief, yet stunning appearance of Ella Cory-Wright as Tiresias effortlessly raises the profile of the play. As the designated 'seer' she is shown to be literally "tuning in" to a universal consciousness with the help of a radio. It is these moments where the blending of past and present does work. Her portrayal of blindness is well executed and it is a shame that she was not on the stage for longer.

Children of Oedipus, whilst containing many disparate elements, is a cleverly thought out piece of theatre and I would urge you to see it if only for its crushing denouement.

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Becky Jowsey

at 23:58 on 26th Oct 2011

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In a play where the actors didn’t seem to realise it had started and the audience didn’t realise it had finished, a poor choice of direction strategy let down a script and cast which had had great promise.

The purpose of a tragedy was, for the Ancient Greeks who wrote them, to invoke a response from the audience, to make you feel so wretched for the characters on the stage that you were able to purge yourself of negative emotions. You should see them suffer, and suffer with them. Tragedy is catharsis, hence it should be strong and powerful and affecting. So I was all set up for being emotionally harrowed.

The lights went down, a heartbeat-like noise began to play softly, the lights came up on the stage, I leant forward in anticipation and…nothing happened. People began to shift in their seats. A bit of the scenery fell off. Eventually, (and this was a long eventually) Jocasta (Caitlin McMillan) walked in and began to shuffle agonisingly slowly about the stage, tidying, sighing melodramatically and looking off into the distance before launching into a longwinded retelling of most of the Theban Cycle. To begin with, we are intrigued. After about five minutes of this, we are bored. To her credit, she stayed with her character resolutely throughout, despite the utter terror that a lesser actor would have felt on being faced with an entire audience of people whose faces transmitted one collective thought, that of: ‘Eh?’

And this set the scene for pretty much the entirely of the play. The aim was clear, we were supposed to feel uncomfortable, like unwitting voyeurs witnessing a private tragedy, but the discomfort instead stemmed from that terrible ‘oh-my-god-have-they-forgotten-their-lines?’ feeling which is the absolute dread of any audience.

It is impossible to emotionally invest in this play, as the attempts at pathos are rendered over and over again in the same formula: bit of a fidget, long pause, dramatic sigh, stare off into middle distance, repeat. Lines too were bizarrely staid, as though reading from a text-book, with the actors flatly addressing the walls of the theatre rather than each other. Again, the intention was clear, to present a set of interlocking private tragedies, but with zero eye contact with the audience and the most formulistic of physical interactions, (clasp hands, unclasp hands, gaze, sigh) there was no sense of real emotion, of watching these people fall apart as they are overwhelmed by terrible events. A monologue does not have to be delivered in a monotone - the truly superb ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’ which I watched only a week ago, and whose team is given special thanks in the ‘Children of Oedipus’ flyer, demonstrated that.

Ada Gafter-O’Higgins was Oedipus, and her entire spoken contribution was in Ancient Greek, rendering what should have been a tragic climax into a thrice-repeated breathy paragraph unintelligible to 99% of the audience (myself included, I could translate the first word only) completely losing any impact it could have had. It was mesmerizing baffling. Why did nobody notice that this simply didn’t work? Why squander the talent of a whole actress down into something utterly incomprehensible? She could have had such an impact! She had the title role! Instead, the most memorable character was without a doubt Antigone’s Tutor, when Uday Raj Anand temporarily forgot that his direction was to be lifeless and flat, and so strode along the front of the stage, gesturing and gesticulating, making eye contact, emphasizing individual words with expression and emotion, in short – acting! Menoeceus (Matthew Ball) too, did well, building gradual momentum as he sought a balance between boy-like terror and man-like strength as he resolves to save his city.

There were no special effects, no uses of lighting or a great use of sound, except for the heartbeat-like thumping at the start, the aim being to focus us in on the raw tragedy being played out before us. It served instead to amplify the inconsistencies. The name ‘Creon’ was pronounced differently by the various actors, sometimes ‘Creyun,’ sometimes ‘Crayon,’ with some members of the audience clearly thinking they were two different people. The concept of having the dead characters (Oedipus being dead to the world, but of course still shamefully alive) gather on the stage wearing blindfolds was an excellent and evocative one, until Menoeceus (Matthew Ball) arrived without, leading me to wonder whether I had misinterpreted the motif.

In a mostly empty theatre, in a play with no interval, it is difficult to gauge the mood of the audience. Certainly, nobody realized it was over until after a good twenty seconds of darkness, and whilst one man’s applause was enthusiastic, the majority was polite. Nobody walked out, but in a play so characterized by tortuous pauses, it took a great deal of bravery even to cough. We sat rigidly in silence, trying not to move. As I left, I believed I heard the woman in front of me exclaim “Well I'm glad that’s over” and I felt desperately sad. As a reviewer and a writer, I want to see a play that is brilliant. Somebody has given me free tickets to have a great night out, to enjoy myself and to support student theatre – I'm not looking to find fault (especially not in my first review.) So I found it confusing and disheartening to watch a group of probably very talented actors working with quite a good script who seemed to have been deliberately directed towards making the thing as shallow and repetitive as possible. It stalled, it dithered, it had no flow.

Bit of a fidget, long pause, dramatic sigh, stare off into middle distance, repeat. What a bloody shame.

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