Pity the poor students: Ancient Greeks and poetry – but no, for this play comes as a splendid revelation (I’m assuming virtually everybody is familiar with the story), reminiscent of a gallery of paintings springing to life: the Daliesque backdrop scenery; Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’, the actual table used as a stage; the horror and turmoil of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’.
As for the dialogue in Steven Berkoff’s Oedipus, even the Sunday Times could have no complaint with delivery, doing justice to sweeping iambic pentameters and language that largely balances effortlessly that of yore and the modern day, while having to deal with a series of coincidences. Music plays a major role, making the most of each scene (apart from one a little too dum-di-dum), as does mime, tremendously stylized, the chorus, acting in unison or sequence, reminiscent of a string of puppets.
Ian Drysdale comes to the fore as blind Tiresias, all too aware that ignorance is bliss, with the messengers (Anthony Barclay and Christopher Hogben) and Alex McSweeney as a shepherd/deus ex machina.
And who would have thought it: Louise Jameson is a dignified, imperious and passionate Jocasta, although you suspect she long ago put two and two together, or rather multiplied them, to come up with 666.
Vincenzo Nicoli does a splendid job as Creon, while Simon Merrells could not be bettered in the title role. He masters every twist and turn of the rollercoaster, from the arrogance of the autocrat to humility as a victim of the gods; elation when the prophesy seems thwarted; the desolation of a man clutching broken straws.
Beware the Greeks bearing gifts, the old saying has it - on this occasion, you can welcome them with open arms.