Oedipus//Where Three Roads Meet
KIERAN CORCORAN enjoys watching actors pretend to act as actors who are pretending to act angry about acting. Or something.
Fitzpatrick Hall – Queens’, 15th-19th November, 7.30pm, £5-6
Directed by Ceci Mourkogiannis and Heather Williams
A certain type of person will love this. They’re the type of person who left a parade of angry comments on my review of Endgame exactly nine months ago, with which this production shares much more than just a venue.
I don’t really think I’m one of those people, but I liked this Oedipus anyway. It’s metatheatre writ large: a ghostly troupe of actors are compelled to perform Oedipus Tyrannus night after night to halls of baying fools and grandiloquent reviewers. They’re tired and jaded and angry, and not sure why they’re doing it any more. CONSEQUENCES.
Photographs by Heatha Agyepong
Mourkogiannis and Williams have essentially come up with a decent performance of the Greek tragedy (well-translated, too) hung on the intriguing frame narrative of the centuries-old actors; a jagged frame which punctures and ironises the play it surrounds. Wanky, navel-gazing plays where actors play actors acting at acting are over-represented in student theatre, but Oedipus is cleverly-constructed enough to earn our indulgence. It’s really rather good, but would be tiresome to explain here in any more detail.
Of course, it takes some pretty nifty actors to carry this all off. Jacob Shephard plays the titular motherlover very well, combining tyrannical swagger with the swell-foot limp that all Oedipodes ought to have. His occasional wanders into hollow grandeur are nicely justified by the frame narrative which has Oedipus’ actor as the conceited sort who is the inevitable result of playing a protagonist for centuries on end. Stephen Bermingham gives a comfortable turn as Creon, and Will Peck is an enjoyable Tiresias who can stomach being laughed at even while bringing doom on our unknowing heads.
But it is the chorus who really make the show. Jake Alden-Falconer’s consummate actor (stress on the second syllable, dahling) manages to be ridiculous and poignant at different moments while only ever really doing one thing. He finds an apt counterpoint in Helena Fallstrom, who delights in unpicking the play as it goes with Socratic interjections and distinctly laconic delivery of the lines she’s fated to speak. She sails quite close to the wind at times by sarcastically throwing away these lines, and – even though the text requires it – it’s wearying to watch.
Fred Maynard, who I’ve never really understood onstage before, is a magnificent middle-man to the previous extremes, and capably knits the ensemble together. Some shaky philosophy about determinism and stuff closes the play, but from Maynard’s lips I could stomach it, and that says a lot for the quality of his performance. It’s not an easy play to carry, but the chorus, Maynard especially, manage it.
I suppose by now you’re wondering where that fifth star has got to, and I’M GETTING TO THAT. GIVE ME A BREAK. You have to buy into the conceit in quite a big way or this all could just get tiresome. In moments where chorus members lose patience with the play they’re supposed to be performing, there’s a danger that you’ll do the same if you’re not already hooked.
And it was lovely of the creative team to print out summaries of Oedipus Tyrannus for the uninitiated (souvenir! better than Wikipedia!). But it does highlight the fact that if you don’t know the play which this play is being clever with, you will miss much. Must suck being ignorant.
So it’s not for everyone, but if you’re one of the many people that it is for, then you’ll find yourself an intelligent play with a lot of artistic integrity. And you won’t have to look at any freshers and be reminded of how young you aren’t.