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Friday, 24 January 2014

BELVOIR and SYDNEY FESTIVAL'S 'Oedipus Schmoedipus' dissected by me

Oedipus Schmoedipus has a concept which is more interesting than the actual show. It's a clever idea to explore and analyse the big literary death scenes and to use a mass of amateur volunteers to bolster numbers for an audience keen to come and see friends and family die on stage in a professional show. I'm also told the day's rehearsal period for the volunteers is a tightly run machine and certainly the people I spoke to who were involved thoroughly enjoyed the process.

I wish I could say it was as much fun to watch. This is actually a 'fringe' show that has about 30 minutes (and that's being generous) of content drawn out to last for 70 minutes in an attempt to justify the $70 you just paid to see it. Whilst the initial death scenes opening was an interesting and potentially great start (desperate for an edit), the 10 minutes of cleaning up as part of the show that immediately followed it whilst our two protagonists could have a shower really pushed the friendship. If I recognise that every minute costs a dollar, I just paid $10 to see three people clean the stage.

And then enter the amateurs. And bless. That's what they were. Declaiming from the TelePrompTer/ big screen tv's mounted on the ceiling (and even that was a struggle for some) and had random acts of scratching and hair pulling and I still couldn't tell you for one moment what the function of that instruction was. I'm taking a punt that some of those volunteers were on the verge of death themselves and others certainly came to understand the idea of corpsing on stage.  It's all a bit of a mess and symptomatic of a half-baked idea unable to come to fruition. I will say that the volunteers for the most part fully embraced their chance to be on stage- my two friends crawled to the exit after their death scene so slowly just to make sure they got value in their stage time (and one volunteer's ample bosom in a low cut top that revealed her assets as she crawled across the stage almost deserved their own credit in the know who you are). There was one woman who just stood there and smiled because she had no idea what to do, even with prompting. I'll admit, I became obsessed with watching her to see if she ever spoke. She did not. Want me to think about your themes? Then don't push the sheep on stage without checking to see if they can jump a fence. 

We then had the rambling of our two main performers and devisers, Zoe Coombs-Marr and Mish Grigor which went for an eternity (probably only 20 minutes in real time) and it was enough to wonder if faking my own death was an appropriate way to exit the theatre. Those people who left after ten minutes were smart indeed. Why didn't I take heed? Because I'd spent $70 on a ticket. Bingo. It really did try to be clever and funny and briefly poignant but didn't hit any of those marks.

The dancing, the literary quotes, the people in sheets, the chorus, the death scenes, the entrances and exits, the pronouncements, the attempted stand-up, the flotsam and jetsam of this show: none of it hangs together. And when the creators call themselves  "very cool, subversive, contemporary theatre-makers"- tongue-in-cheek, I can't help but think that the risk they took staging this show needed a local version of an off-off broadway run, so to speak, in order to hone a decent enough concept so it doesn't face death by the critics (pun intended). It's got plenty of ideas just a dissatisfying amount of actual content.

I would not be spending good money to see this (oops- too late) and unless you have friends in the show (and ask them to tuck those puppies away) and you really, really love them so that you are willing to make the sacrifice to see this show, then don't waste your time or cash. It's about two workshops away from being performance ready.

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