Sophocles, adapted by David Stuttard
Actors of Dionysus at the Gala Theatre, Durham, and touring
Presenting Greek tragedy in English today is fraught with problems. Do we go for as accurate a reproduction of the original as it is possible to get (and we really don't know just how accurate our picture is), even though this would make the play very alien to us, or do we adapt to suit the modern experience of theatre and by doing so, perhaps, lose the religious and ritual significance of the original whilst remaining true to its spirit?
Actors of Dionysus have chosen the latter, and it is a wise choice, and by doing so they have found a contemporary resonance which makes the play very relevant to 2003.
David Stuttard writes in the programme:
When I was writing it, Britain was being dragged further and further into a war against Iraq. There were mass demonstrations on the astreets and the country was divided. The political élite seemed increasingly isolated - and at the heart of it was a figure who has swept to power as a charismatic leader, apparently convinced of his sense of destiny and his own ability to solve whatever problems should arise. But as the crisis deepened, so did our sense of the situation being out of his control . In the face of a barrage of hostile questioners chaired by Trevor Macdonald on the eve of war, Tony Blair seemed not so much to have the answers but to be part of the problem himself. The parallels with Oedipus were growing.
I confess that one of the difficulties I have always had with the play was the way in which Oedipus constantly focuses on his achievements and denigrates what others have done: "I, I, I" is his constant theme in the opening speeches. It has always seemed somewhat alien - "unmodern" - but after reading the paragraph quoted above and watching the way actor Tas Emiabiata played Oedipus in these formerly contentious opening scenes, I saw Tony Blair clearly in every speech.
But this production is not a modern political tract, it is a performance of a Greek play which remains faithful to the spirit of the original in both "meaning" and production. It's done with four actors (Sophcles had only three, but he also had a Chorus of fifteen), one (Emiabata) playing Oedipus and the rest - Kathryn O'Reilly, Angus Lindsay and Dan Winter - sharing the other roles between them.
The ritualistic dance of the Chorus is replaced by modern physical theatre (co-director is Lecoq-trained Marcello Magni, one of the founders of Théâtre de Complicité) and clever use of sparse but effective stage furniture, not forgetting some effective lighting by Adam Banks.
For the second time within seven days, I found myself in an audience of predominantly young people: last week is was mainly primary kids for Shakesdpeare 4 Kidz' Macbeth and tonight university students and sixth formers. I confess I had fears - before the show started the uni students were somewhat boisterous - but the play held them, as it held me, and that is a sure sign of its success: to grab the attention, not only of lively students but also of a somewhat jaded old hack who has seen around a dozen productions of the play in the last... well, large amount of years.
The tour continues until 5th December to Leeds, Derby, Colchester, Warwick, Scunthorpe, Harlow, Edmonton, Exeter, Bath, Wolverhapmton, Buxton, Ormskirk and Hexham.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan