Oedipus The King

July 20, 2010

There is a new evil lurking across the Irish stage. That of the pensive pause. As each sacred sentence spills from the mouths of am dram babes it is left to hang for a moment as if we the audience are unable to decipher the meaning for ourselves. As if the importance would go WOOSH, right over our heads should they not alert us to its significance with an everlasting lull in proceedings. Rather than reacting genuinely to what’s being said they irrigate the stage with a stifling silence which they must think feeds a thoroughly emotive performance but instead seems to be a cushion for their lack of craft, which has an adverse affect on the timbre and pace of the piece.

This pause was present in The Highest House on the Mountain, it was in The Quare Fellow and by god is it present in Oedipus the King, the latest production from Andy Hinds’ Classic Stage Ireland. Players big and small mill around the stage speaking, as is the CSI way, with crystal clarity. The movement is tight but the actors seem to have no clue as to why they are doing what they are doing, other than to follow their director’s orders, whilst little or no effort is made to distinguish one character from the next.

The whimsical production design tips its hat to the eastern bloc but it could just as easily be Ballyjamesduff for all the relevance it has on the plot and the set, for a profit share production, borders on the offensive. When you can barely afford to pay your actors, to construct a workers shed or waiting room or what ever the hell it was supposed to be and then not justify it in any way or suggest why the action is taking place there, is enraging.

This is a play about the search for truth, for justice and for knowledge. It is about religious skepticism, democracy in practice and in many ways the meaninglessness of life. It’s not a litany of the sins Oedipus’ name has become synonymous with but about how he uncovers them and brings about his own demise.  None of this subtext or tension is paid even the slightest lip service.

Andy Kellegher’s Oedipus is physically commanding but verbally inept, the verse protruding awkwardly from his mouth, almost monosyllabically, as if he were a stranger to the English language, sounding it out to get to grips with it. He displays none of the humility; charm or cunning referred to in the text, but snarls about the stage like a rabid Jack Russell, laying waste to his characters regal attributes, so that when fate brings him to his knees it’s the same bark, different bite.

The chorus stop and start, tripping over one another, occasionally and inexplicitly bursting into song; Michael Bates, as Creon, smiles benignly throughout and Leesa Thurman never shows us the blood that pumps through Jocasta’s veins. Where is the passion that binds her to Oedipus? Where was the disdain for the oracle she believes cost her her eldest child? Where is the horror, the shocked realisation at the hand faith has dealt her? I single her out for criticism because she has the capacity to play this part to the hilt but, as with her Agave in CSI’s The Bacchae, she focuses her emotions inward when she should be unfurling them, raging and repenting instead of constantly introspecting. Having seen her act before I got the impression watching her here that she was a really fine actress muzzled from sinking her teeth into the text. When she makes her final exit it was as if she was pushing a trolley back to Tesco, not planning to hang herself for taking her son to bed.

The only distinguishing traits that seeped through here continues the distressing Irish tradition of relying on bogger accents or Dublineeze to let the audience know that there is a comedy character in their midst and it is littered with those tiny little inaccuracies that just boil my piss. Why, if the city of Theebes is so ravaged by plague, does the chorus, so desperate for Oedipus’s help at the plays start, all seem to be in such robust health? Why are they clad in peasant garb while Oedipus is suited and booted like a mangled debutant, Creon’s a dashing dandy and Jocasta is part park avenue, part Walker Texas Ranger?

I always knew what was going but I never cared about a character that was bound by fate to expose two of the most loathsome taboos of any civilization. Who made every effort to avoid doing what was foretold only to discover, through his own persistence, that he had long ago fulfilled it.  Oedipus is a play, which by proxy of its plot should be viewed from behind ones hands; so vile is the action on stage. Here what should have been painful to watch was also painful to listen to, a pedantic reading of lines ruining what should have been a tragic, descent into the truth.


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