Following on from our chat with the director of Lakeside’s production of Oedipus, Impact Arts also spoke to members of the cast to find out about the play, rehearsals and the influence of Steven Berkoff.
Can you tell us what Oedipus is about?
Elis Edhem: Oedipus is a Greek tragedy which follows the story of a Queen, called Jocasta, and her husband, King Laius, who have a son called Oedipus. They have a curse put on them, which prophesies that Oedipus will kill his father and sleep with his mother. Along the way, there’s a lot of confusion, mainly due to three messengers who deliver the key points, one of them being the man who took Oedipus away from Thebes, and another who took him to Corinth. However, in the end, Oedipus learns the truth, and decides to do something terrible! The rest of the plot is for the audience to watch and find out.
What is your favourite part of the play?
Ella Hiscocks: I have two favourite parts, and they’re both really different. The first one would be where we’re describing a story Oedipus is telling, and as an ensemble, we act this story out. I think it is the most fun part, where we’re able to take hold of the story, and not make it this morbid, tragic thing, but turn it into something humorous, that everyone will love. There’s an aggressive fighting scene, that we’ve based on Kill Bill, and its so over the top, and has so much energy in it, which I think audiences will really enjoy. Another part I like, which is on the other end of the spectrum, is a chorus scene, where we’re all on stage together, and we have come up with movements that would go with the lines that the chorus were saying. We’ve based this scene on a play called Pink Mist by Owen Sheers, and I think it’s probably a stand-out moment in the play which focuses the production’s energy. Instead of being really manic, suddenly the entire cast is doing the same thing, and the audience can properly focus on the storyline and the sadness of the tale. I also like how the production is very devised, we do a lot of practical work in rehearsals.
Following on from that, what is a typical day like in rehearsals?
Lara Bellis: We would usually start with some vocal and physical warm-ups, and a few drama games, which everyone gets really into, as everyone gets really competitive! Early on, on the stage, we would work on a certain scene, and Martin Berry, the show’s director, would give us direction, or try and come up with ideas to make the scene as lively and realistic as possible. Now we’re working on putting all the pieces of sound and movement together. It’s a lot of fun, and going well so far.
We all know the original Oedipus was performed in Ancient Greece – why do you think the play is still relevant today?
Arnaud Lacey: If we performed it how Steven Berkoff interpreted it from the Ancient Greek, it would be incredibly dull. We’ve instead taken the script, and warped it so much, that we bring in outlines of modern day elements into the story. We’ve also added in little scenes that were originally improvised, but which were really funny so we kept them. We just suddenly break out of a really intense scene, and cut to some sheep, which is fun, and which makes the story entertaining. At the same time, you’ve still got the consistent, inescapable dread which the story inherently contains. As the play progresses, there is more and more of that, and the story starts to lose some of its comedy, and as we get towards the end, where the tension is building and building, and Oedipus is about to find out the truth, the play gets really hard to watch. But the story is relevant, because if you do things you aren’t aware of, is it your fault? How much free will do we really have? That is the basis of the story, a question of free will.
How has the influence of Steven Berkoff and his Total Theatre affected your performances?
Josh Battaliou: I think we’ve gone away from his Total Theatre idea, we’ve decided to change that and modify it. At the time when Berkoff wrote the play, it was written for a different society, and so much has changed since then. In order for us to connect to our audience, we needed to find new ways to express the core emotions of the play. I think a lot of Berkoff’s writing tends to repeat itself during the actual play, so we’ve had to make a lot of cuts. Because of that, the play has become a lot shorter, but there is a lot more clarity to it. Berkoff’s concept of ‘Cockney’, and using that to create a more immersive experience, we’ve used as a scope, to gain the revelations that the audiences see off the writing. We’ve also emphasised this immersive nature, which I’m sure is what Berkoff would intend to do, as those moments are pretty bold in the text. We’ve detracted from what Berkoff was trying to do, and made it our own theatre.
Elis: Berkoff’s quite alienating and focuses on the grotesque, taking reality and twisting it! We’ve actually done the play in kind of a Brechtian style, the complete opposite, with all cast members on stage, clothing and props clearly visible. Martin’s taken both concepts and warped them together in a strange way.
What have been the greatest challenges in rehearsing and performing Oedipus?
Elis: Becoming a tree! That stereotypical drama thing!
Arnaud: I’d say working as part of a chorus, which is something that I’ve never done before. Usually, you know what other cast members are going to be doing, and you get given your part, and you then learn it with the person who you’re going to be doing the scene with. With this, as we’re all on stage at the same time, you have to be aware of exactly what everyone is doing, all at the same time. You have to know when your part is, as you’re just jumping in and out of the story.
Josh: Because it’s a Greek tragedy as well, the emotions within the play are so extreme. You can go from immense highs to immense lows, and trying to actually gauge where to put yourself as a character within that situation can be quite difficult to really get the point across. The play spirals out of control in a matter of seconds.
Ella: As a person playing Oedipus, and there are seven of us, its quite difficult to go into becoming the character. You have to follow on from where the actor before has left it. With an ensemble piece, the core of it is you have to be able to keep sustaining the momentum,especially with Oedipus, where the character is just building and building. So I found that a bit of a challenge, to find out where my Oedipus was at, and then discover a way to build the character, and lead the character on to the next actor playing Oedipus. The transitions were difficult, as you have to make it easy to understand that you’re playing the next stage of Oedipus, but also make it your own!
Elis: Martin wanted to make sure a modern audience knew exactly what was going on too. Because if you come into the theatre, and don’t know the story of Oedipus, it’s hard following a Greek tragedy.
Arnaud: Bearing in mind that it’s the second in a trilogy as well, also makes the play difficult to perform!
Sum up the production and experience in three words.
Josh: Intense, amusing and exciting.
Lara: Accessible, dramatic and ironic.
Ella: Rewarding, challenging, brilliantly funny.
Elis: Tiring, exciting and tree!
Arnaud: Ridiculous, hilarious and heart-wrenching.
‘Oedipus’ is running at the Lakeside Arts Centre from Tuesday 19th April until Saturday 23rd April. Tickets for students are £5. For more information and to buy tickets, see here.