Saturday, 25 October 2008

HOT: Oedipus, National Theatre, Southbank

This adaptation of Sophocles' powerful Greek tragedy hit all the right notes for me, so get a return ticket to the sold-out season if you can. OK, so it wasn't all joy and laughter but then I didn't expect it to be. Firstly, the set: I thought the tilting and revolving copper-rusted stage was very effective in embodying the characters' and the chorus' increasing disorientation and uncertainty, and the briefly exposed, starkly backlit trees added to the eerie gloom. Secondly, the script: How to help the audience relate to a centuries-old, slightly far-fetched story? I was very impressed with the adaptation by Frank McGuiness (of Angela's Ashes fame) as his modern phrasing (but not incongrously so) made the unfolding of the tragedy much more easy to follow and believable. Thirdly, the chorus: It's difficult to incorporate the lamentations and contemplations of a Greek chorus without sounding ridiculous in this era of realism, so I thought the singing, dancing and interactions between the chorus and the main characters was a very effective device. Finally, the actors: Alan Howard's Teiresias was solid and staunchly moral, Clare Higgins's Jocasta was too shrill and hysterically shuddering for my liking, but my Oscar goes to Ralph Fiennes. When an actor is that good, it is thrilling to watch. His descent into agony and wretchedness was terrifying, and when his animal wail broke through the silence, my body went absolutely still and cold. Superb.

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