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Sunday 24 August 2014

BELVOIR’S ‘OEDIPUS REX’ dissected by me

Seriously? I mean, seriously?? This is how you want to represent the story of 'Oedipus Rex'? Belvoir and its director and co-deviser (with the cast) Adena Jacobs has given everyone a post-Oedipal Complex with this one by stripping the play down to its basest form and ideas and then flushing it down the sinkhole of theatrical sewerage. This is Oedipus after Oedipus after Sophocles, and Jacobs and her cast have created something where nudity is the last of its problems.

Look, I’m from Sydney and so we all know that I am a luddite or philistine and apparently I just don’t get avant-garde. I’m too Williamson to appreciate the five minutes of darkness that starts the show or the sight of Oedipus (Peter Carroll) with his singlet over his head, standing on a chair and flashing his tackle. Nor can I understand the subtleties of Oedipus wearing a bra as Antigone (Andrea Demetriades) humps her father. Well, may I suggest you take that shit back to Melbourne where the intelligentsia and luvvies can hail Jacobs as the new King and leave Sydney to get on with making watchable and engaging theatre?

Jacobs is deserving of her own bingo card these days- after just three Sydney productions, that’s quite a feat. Start with darkness. Silence. Tableaux. Childlike games. Assaulting music. Nudity. Disjointed dialogue. Glass box. Check. ‘Oedipus Rex’ might not have a glass box but its set from Paul Jackson, is the scaffold of a house under construction, complete with plastic covering, which is the next best thing I suppose.

Can I ask a few key questions here? Firstly, if this is directly after the events we know of the original play, how is it that Oedipus is so old? If Jocasta is his mother, how old must she have been when she discovered the truth? If Oedipus is a frail old man receiving a sponge bath from his daughter when not inhaling oxygen from the mask attached to the tank at the side of the stage, Jocasta must have received her telegram from the Queen by now wishing her a Happy 100th Birthday. I’m surprised she had the strength to hang herself.

Secondly…well actually…this is going to take so long, let’s just cut to the chase. It’s not clever. It’s not good. It’s seventy minutes and it feels like seven hours. Playing Hide and Seek with your blind outcast father, building a house of blocks, stealing from blind dad’s pile, knocking down the house, playing I-Spy, sitting eating a sandwich as dad prattles on about his tragedy…I swear- I wish Jocasta’s brooch could have done the rounds of the audience so we could all pluck out our eyes instead of watching this travesty of a tragedy.

There is no chorus in this version but at least when Demetriades as Antigone writes her frustrations of boredom on large pieces of paper and throws them around the space, I felt like it was an honest representation of chorus as audience because it was giving voice to exactly what we were thinking about this production. And as Jacobs sat up the back, barely able to control her amusement at her work, I realised that she genuinely thinks this is good. Even Benedict Andrews must have felt some sort of shame at ‘Every Breath’- or maybe that was just his cast, who gave up on the show long before its run was done.

So in this version of Oedipus, man is frail. Got it. We all return to childhood. Okay. Having sex with your parents is part of the game. Sure. Life is one big painful inescapable chore and happiness is a game that must end. Well, this production has all of it and it's as poignant and powerful as running over your cat.

Just don’t do it to yourself. There’s less than ten minutes of this show that you might find interesting and the rest is like internal organ failure or waking up to discover that someone stole your kidneys. It’s contrived. It’s one-trick-Jacobs at it again. I-spy-with-my-little-eye a cancellation of our student subscription to Belvoir. Thanks for the memories.

Let it slip quietly into the night and pray to whatever God you believe in that this is the last we see of this kind of work at Belvoir again.


  1. 'I wish Jocasta’s brooch could have done the rounds of the audience so we could all pluck out our eyes instead of watching this travesty of a tragedy.'

  2. This is the type of production that I love to take my students to see so that later we can have a discussion on the vital necessity of understanding well and using effectively those pesky Elements of Drama.

  3. Yeah mate, I can tell you now you'd hate everything here in Melbourne. If you think the sole purpose of theatre is to entertain you then please stay in sydney. Ergh.

  4. You DIDN'T like it? I'm SHOCKED!

  5. That was sarcasm...

  6. I came in completely cold and with no preconceived ideas, and I have to say that I agree with SOYP. I am a fan of avant-garde theatre - and I don't mind being tested. But this play was so unbelievably pretentious, and exploited talented actors to fulfil a very weak idea on the part of the director. It's ironic that the idea that 'tragedy' can no longer be represented was taken up so didactically. This idea is by no means novel, and has been explored in very solid, interesting tragedies for thousands of years! I wish I could've seen one of those instead of this indurable, high-school essay. That said, the long periods of complete darkness did give me a chance to think of what I'd cook for dinner later that evening.

  7. I saw the play on 4 September and was spellbound. I honestly really enjoyed it. An incredible performance by Peter Carroll.

    This evening (5 September) I saw STC's Macbeth and couldn't stand it. Two hours of agony in uncomfortable seats.

    1. I think this Oedipus is one of those polarising performances. You either love it (as many people have) or hated it (like I and a few others have). There's something to be said for theatre that can do that and maybe I completely missed it.

    2. I'm with Jane on this.
      Having no idea how Oedipus plays out, this production did very little to educate its ignorant audience members.
      Nor did it go to any great lengths to explain why it had boldly leapt in the direction it did.
      Why was it intent on alienating its audience?

      I probably would have enjoyed it more had I been schooled in Oedipus prior. Likewise with Nora- knowing the play A Doll's House was the only reason I found the adaptation interesting. And likewise with Cain and Abel, which would have been more palatable should I had known it was performance art instead of narrative.

  8. I agree with anonymous of September 5. This was my third Oedipus this year (Edipe an opera by Enescu in Frankfurt followed by Oedipus City at the Deutsche Theater in Berlin which has made my top ten theatre performances in nearly 40 years of theatre going). This Oedipus Rex at Belvoir Downstairs will not make my top ten but it was a terrific turn by Peter Carroll (can he do no wrong?) and Andrea Demetriades. My only criticism would be that the darkness and silences were held a tad too long and that the nudity could have been avoided but good on Peter to get his gear off at age 70.

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