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Review: Oedipus/Liverpool Playhouse

Stephen Berkoff is at the top of his game, says Ian Moore

Published on February 24th 2011.


Review: Oedipus/Liverpool Playhouse

OEDIPUS is perhaps the greatest Greek tragedy - second only to Hamlet as the greatest tragedy of all time.

This modern, cutting edge production is simply immense

Steven Berkoff ’s thundering adaptation of Sophocles’ original comes to the Liverpool Playhouse; ground-breaking and universal as ever — an epic, emotional journey exploring the very foundation of who we are.

Berkoff has written 18 or more original works, in addition to 16 adaptations of those by figures such as Kafka, Poe, and Shakespeare.

However it is with this production that he returns to form (not that he’s ever been away) promising his greatest theatrical experience in bringing his distinctive style to this new production.

With a highly charged performance style and charismatic ensemble of actors led by Simon Merrells (Oedipus) and Louise Jameson (his wife / mother Jocasta), this modern, cutting edge production is simply immense and, while remaining true to the power of classical Greek tragedy is theatre at its absolute best.

Berkoff, who worked with Merrells on the critically acclaimed On the Waterfront in 2008, has penned a piece written in verse, utilising a traditional Greek Chorus, and he uses flourishes of modern language and a simple setting to explore the family dynamic: how big ideas of gods and fate affect real people in modern times

The plot: The child Oedipus is born to royalty, but a grim prophecy tells that father will be murdered by son. Thus, with his feet bound, the infant is abandoned.

A messenger offers the child to the royal palace at Corinth. Life there, as son of the royal court, is good, until Oedipus too learns of the prophecy. But his adoptive parents have failed to inform him that they are not his real parents. Determined to outwit fate, he flees.

On his journey, returning to his forgotten first home, he both kills a stranger then, having solved the riddle of the murderous Sphinx, is lauded as a hero. His reward for solving the riddle is marriage to the Queen of Thebes.

Thus, in one fell swoop the prophecy is realised.

All seems well until Thebes, now ruled by King Oedipus, is plagued by ill-fortune. And here is the setting for this play.

The people are promised relief by the gods only if the slayer of the former king is apprehended and punished. The story unfolds to reveal that Oedipus has unwittingly murdered his father and married his own mother, and it soon becomes clear that Oedipus’s only success will be in sealing his own tragic fate.

"Tell me the truth of who I am," is the puzzle posed from the outset.

In relating the piece, it is the Chorus who, in representing everything from the common man to the conscious of us all, give the production its unique quality as we are taken on a journey through the themes of power of natural forces and the cycle of life and death.

Says Berkoff: “My version of Oedipus seeks to examine the play and occasionally peer beneath the tendency to strut and pose, to high-blown rhetoric and an air of self-importance somehow unavoidable in versions of Greek tragedy.

“I also sought to relate some events to images of today since the greatness of Greek tragedy is that its themes deal with the power of natural forces and the cycle of life and death. So its shadow lies across the years and its arguments are mankind's into perpetuity.”

In “truth”, this is Berkoff at his absolute best, it’s not too everyone’s taste but as an artist, his shadow will be great.

9/10

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younger-than-twiggy-anywayFebruary 24th 2011.

Three of the outstanding features of this play are:
1 The masterful lighting - I have NEVER seen such perfection and atmosphere imparted in such a simple yet dramatic way. Each character is defined by it, from the opening scene when the focus is purely on Oedipus's face, white, yet etched with craggy detail, to the moulding of the writhing, tortured, expressive chorus reminiscent of Michelangelo's last supper.
2 The lifting of the story line from its Sophoclian linearity by the use of highly choreographed movements to the point that the ensemble are effectively being asked to perform a haunting modern dance in slow motion.
3. The faultless acting

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