Tues, 18th Feb 2020

Review of Experimental Rendition of 'Oedipus Rex' Classic

Text by: 

Joel Moore

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For full disclosure, I am a fourth year Classicist whose primary interest in the subject is Ancient Greek drama; so, when I was presented with the opportunity to review Oedipus Rex my curiosity was immediately captured. This play is a staple in the diet that a Classics student like me is fed from day one. The story is a beautifully realised disaster with elements of self-mutilation, death, and incest. Gabriele Uboldi’s rendition of this ancient play is captivating and experimental. It brings the plot forward into the present day and sets itself next to many similar productions in recent years such as the National Theatre’s Antigone, Actors of Dionysus’ Lysistrata, and many more.

In a technical aspect , the play was brilliant, and the spectacle was a joy to watch. There was excellent use of projection - sometimes a camera would be pointed at Oedipus as he made a political speech and the footage would be displayed behind him, making it appear like a televised press conference. The role of Oedipus was rendered in a thoroughly experimental way, being split between four actors, each of them portraying the character in slightly different manner, showcasing the crumbling mentality of the tragic hero as he slips into insanity .

Indeed, the acting was all around very impressive, with particular mention to Martina Sardelli for her portrayal of Jocasta. The character came across as smug, elegant, sympathetic, and twisted at different points throughout the play without feeling jarring or disjointed.

However, this production somewhat fell short in its faithfulness to the genre. Other similar productions have successfully brought ancient plotlines into the modern day, but they did so without sacrificing what makes the play look and feel like an Ancient Greek tragedy. In Oedipus Rex there was no chorus (or discernible replacement); there was a lack of the three unities of action, time, and space; and the characteristic simplicity that makes the narratives so timelessly understandable was made confusing. Despite having a well-grounded knowledge of this play from years of study, there were times in the production that I felt lost, further brought about by the insertion of a seemingly gratuitous dance scene and a backstory that blended so well into the main plotline that I was not always aware where the story was chronologically. The ending, which in the original provokes an outpouring of tragic sympathy, was changed to a degree where I was left uncertain on what had happened.

The Director’s first foray into the world of Greek drama, the 2018 production of Bacchae, was far more faithful to the original and, in my opinion, the moments where it broke from this were more interesting and poignant because of it. In the past when playwrights have loosely adapted ancient narratives to a similar degree, they have changed the name and characters of the play. Perhaps that would have been more fitting for this rendition.

Overall, Oedipus Rex was a technical tour de force, with excellent acting that portrayed the inner psychological complexities of the characters, that ventured too deeply into the realms of experimentality to be faithfully called an Ancient Greek tragedy. It was undoubtedly a very enjoyable entertainment, especially if you are not a dyed-in-the-wool Classicist like me. However, if you were looking for a rendition of Sophocles’ masterpiece that stays true to the millennia of tradition that defines the genre, it was not to be found here.

This run of 'Oedipus Rex' has now ended. Directed by Gabriel Uboldi, 'Oedipus Rex' was performed at The Byre Theatre in St Andrews on the 12th and 13th February 2020. More details can be found at: https://byretheatre.com/events/oedipus-rex/