Sunday 25 September 2016

Tragedy hits perfect note

Oedipus, Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Katy Hayes

Published 03/10/2015 | 02:30

Peter Gowen (left) as Tiresias and Barry John O'Connor as Oedipus at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival
Peter Gowen (left) as Tiresias and Barry John O'Connor as Oedipus at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival

Wayne Jordan's text version of Oedipus is plain and unpoetic. Few verbal curlicues or fancy linguistics. Some familiar lines of Yeats's poetry thrown in. Thus with very little fussiness, the story shines through.

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Sophocles's great 2,500-year-old work is a tabloid shocker, a play which tackles the ultimate taboo of incest and has a chronically gory ending. A man sets out to track down a murderer, unaware that it is himself he will find, and uncovers the fact that he has unwittingly married his mother.

Jordan's production has a deceptively simple air. The citizens are all Joe and Josephine Average, in ordinary jeans and tee shirts. They look like supermarket workers on their downtime. The 13-strong chorus is stuffed with highly accomplished feature actors and singers. Often, in the presentation of Greek tragedy, the chorus is made to act like cockroaches, scuttling round under the feet of the stars. Not here: the citizens own this show and the chorus is always to the fore. Musical director Tom Lane makes a huge contribution with the energy and beauty of the singing.

Ciarán O'Melia's clever design fills the stage with simple wooden chairs, a poor man's possession. The chairs have the effect of making the crowd more populous. Lighting design by Sinéad Wallace is a triumph. A bank of lights on the rear wall draws the audience into participation. During a late choral sequence, they shine dazzlingly on the house. As Oedipus struggles sightless on to the stage, we too blink away the after-effects of a blinding light.

Barry John O'Connor is a gentle Oedipus, evoking great sympathy as his terrible tragedy unfolds.

Fiona Bell brings her immense stage presence to bear on Jocasta, and she needs every scrap of it, as Jocasta's tragedy is always an adjunct to the main dramatic line. Mark Huberman's Creon is convincingly self-effacing.

This is a people's production. With its reluctant leaders and its sourcing of energy in the crowd, it could be called Corbynite.

A brilliant Oedipus for our times.

Irish Independent

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