The Nottingham New Theatre and Nottingham Lakeside Arts Centre chose to put on Oedipus for this year’s theatrical collaboration. Oedipus is a monumental piece of Greek literature by the brilliant Sophocles. It tells the tragic tale of Oedipus, a man who spends his life running away from what he is informed will be his ill fate, only to discover that in his attempts to escape destiny, he inadvertently solidifies his unfortunate demise. However, instead of replicating the ancient text in the way the Greeks would have done, the company took direction from Steven Berkoff’s updated version of the theatre piece. Led by director, Martin Berry, the cast of thirteen boldly attempted to recreate this fateful story in a manner suited to a modern day audience.
Upon entering the theatre, I was captivated by the set. Without wanting to give too much away, the use of colours, strips of fabric and materials reminiscent of driftwood invoked the feeling I was on the Greek island of Kos in ancient times. This was juxtaposed with the use of modern items, including black theatrical trunks, “IKEA-esque” rugs, an electric guitar and a smoke machine. Designed by third year NTU theatre designer, Lauren Connolly, I was left curious to see how it would be used to portray the numerous varying locations that the play requires and whether this concoction of modern and ancient elements would combine or clash.
“In this particular production, not only do the actors make clear that they are very much aware of the audience’s presence, they even take time to keep audience up to date with the developments on-stage”
While audience members attempted to locate their designated seats, the cast conducted voice practices, sound checks and final discussions on-stage; immediately breaking down the fourth wall for the audience before the play even began. In Sophocles’ Oedipus, the fourth wall is never obviously broken and the audience member is left a voyeur, peering into this world played out in front of them, but never invited to take a more active role to forward the action. In this particular production, not only do the actors make clear that they are very much aware of the audience’s presence, they even take time to keep audience up to date with the developments on-stage.
Having studied the play two years ago, I was initially unsure about the light-hearted and disjointed approach taken. It was slightly disconcerting to have the cast re-enact comic examples of dramatic irony as I recalled the scenes in which this literary device featured, such as when Oedipus unknowingly kills his own father, King Laius and then marries and copulates with his mother and wife, Queen Jocasta.
However, as the play progressed, I became more accustomed to this re-telling of fate and started to appreciate the literary breaks in the drama. These not only heightened and intensified the dramatic tension of the play but also served as periods of reflection and consideration for the audience members.
“A weaker cast would likely have been unable to manage juggling the fine balance between the comic and tragic aspects this production requires”
Moreover, the extremely strong performances by the majority of cast is what I believe, allows this adaptation to succeed. A weaker cast would likely have been unable to manage juggling the fine balance between the comic and tragic aspects this production requires. Another interesting element of the play was the constant changing of the actor playing Oedipus. I believe that there were a total of seven cast members who played the titular role throughout the duration of the play, and this allowed for a particularly poignant and powerful final scene. Ultimately, as director, Martin Berry remarks in his commentary, Oedipus depicts “a fatalistic society is doomed to fail” and his version seems to take these words to heart by making sure that this production is very much an individualistic and challenging conceptualisation of this ancient play.
Claire Elizabeth Seah
Oedipus is running at Nottingham Lakeside Arts Centre until Saturday 23rd April. For more information see here.