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Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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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 Coriolanus).

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 in context.

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").

- Lucie Elven


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