Thebes (New Diorama Theatre)

The second show in The Faction’s 2014 rep season at the New Diorama Theatre opened last week

The second show in Faction Theatre’s 2014 rep season is a reworking by Gareth Jandrell of the Sophocles and Aeschylus play giving us the tragedy of Oedipus and Jocasta followed by Antigone’s stand against Creon with the titular troubled city itself literally heaving in the background.

Jandrell’s text is fresh and original although its habit of using quite heightened language one minute ("Why envenom me now sister? It does little to naught for you now") and casual modern vernacular the next ("I couldn’t give a fuck what you think about my washing") is a bit disorientating until you get used to it.

Did I say literally heaving? Director Rachel Valentine Smith makes stunningly imaginative physical use of the full-cast chorus which hisses, mutters, weeps, clamours, stamps, shouts, rolls on the floor, assembles in formation and contributes a great deal of slick, atmospheric movement work, often in slow motion. It creates a real sense of a city in turmoil.

Every inch an impressively strong ensemble piece, Thebes keeps the entire cast of twelve on stage throughout. Characters emerge from the chorus and seamlessly melt back into it so there are no small parts although, obviously, there are some major ones. The device pays strong homage to the traditional Greek chorus concept while also providing human scenery both visual and oral as they become, for example, townsfolk attacking or defending the city or reacting to political rhetoric.

Laclan McCall, clear convincing and compelling, dominates the first half as Oedipus gradually discovering the horror of his history. And Kate Sawyer is very moving as Jocasta tearfully describing to her new husband how she put her first born out to die rather than let him live to fulfil the regicide/patricide curse.

There is also an outstandingly intelligent, controlled performance from Cary Crankson as Creon descending into tyranny and Dervell Mellett finds exactly the right blend of steely determination and youthful passion as Antigone who, come what may, is going to bury her dead brother decently despite Creon’s edict. And yet again Richard Delaney gives us a very witty, but shrewdly observed guard acting as messenger.

It’s a pretty powerful piece from a company whose work really does seem to go from strength to strength. I’m already looking forward to Robbers, the third and last show of the rep season, at the end of the month.