Ricky Dukes' production of Oedipus showcases a
version of tragedy edited for these modern times - times of
self-diagnosis and shaven-headed heroes - with all the apathy and
unearned didacticism of a lookbook (inspiration: Ralph Fiennes in
The production must have lifted its vocal gestures from sentimental film
versions of Shakespeare - articulated speeches celebrate the emotion of
Oedipus' famous downward skid. The production is weighed down by a
relayed sense of what tragedy ought to sound like, from the canned
angelus, to (Robin Holden's) Oedipus' braggartly delivery, to the
chorus’ platitudinous couplets about memory.
Max Dorey's design beautifully emphasises the themes of the play - smoke
machines belch throughout, so that the theatre is a peasouper in which
faces and bodies are indistinguishable, forcing the audience into
Tyresian blindness, and creating striking contrasts when spotlights
slice through the fog. The alternating transparency and opacity of the
air emphasises the contrasts in the script - truth and lies, the
individual and the community, the cure and the sickness.
Yet despite its visual confidence, the production feels oddly
incomplete; I was never convinced the actors were speaking their lines
Perhaps this is to do with the director's view of Greek tragedy as
'vibrant and passionate' - corporate-speak which neglects the social
relevance of the conflict of the characters' positions, and context of
Oedipus the King as the first of four plays in a
festival of citizenship. The plays in the Dionysia questioned what it
was to be an Athenian, while the festival itself exposed the
contradictions of that version of democracy.
This Oedipus, however, is sweary, unthinking and
self-involved, and as inward-looking as the first of part of a
psychological horror trilogy. The audience is barely performed to, or
implicated. The social dimension of attic tragedy is ignored, despite
the sense of community fomented by the whole cast being on stage in most
scenes, and the conspicuous directorial decision to have the chorus
consist solely of women in nurses' outfits (a departure from Sophocles'
proposal of "citizens of Thebes").