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Oedipus Tyrannos

Sophocles, translated by Don Taylor
Theatro Technis
(2011)

Oedipus Tyrannos publicity graphic

One of the first and one of the greatest tragedies ever written for the theatre, Oedipus Tyrannos is the story of the man who solved the riddle of the Sphinx and saved Thebes from its terrors. As a reward he became its ruler, marrying Jocasta, its recently widowed queen, who bore him children.

The play begins when Thebes is being ravaged by plague. Oedipus is told that there is a criminal who was responsible for the death of Laius, Jocasta's previous husband, and he must be found and driven out. Oedipus, who believes he is the child of the rulers of Corinth but exiled himself from that city because an oracle said the he would kill his father, does not realise that he is actually the murderer of Laius, the son whom his parents had exposed on a mountain with a stake driven though his feet because they had been given the same oracle before his birth, who has now married his own mother and fathered his half brothers and sisters.

The story would already have been well known to Sophocles's audience, as it is to most people seeing it today but, as this production by George Eugeniou makes clear, the play is not so much about the uncovering of those facts as their realisation by Oedipus and Jocasta and the subsequent effect on them, the working out of what the Delphic oracle predicted and is tragic consequences (which of course continue beyond those covered in this play).

Tyrant did not mean the same to ancient Greeks as it does today. To the Thebans Oedipus had been a hero, who had saved them and was a respected and benevolent ruler, but Amos Miskelis's Oedipus is no calm law-giver when he opens the play but an exasperated man worn down by worry and on edge. He speaks like the foreigner he thinks he is with a heavy accent, sometimes impenetrable when speaking rapidly, always eyes downcast to the ground, which makes him seem morose, with a quick temper, a man who might well have easily risen to anger and violence when he, a prince used to deference, found his way blocked by Laius on the road from Delphi and slew him.

This is a multi-national company: Greek, English, Japanese and North American as well as Lithuanian Miskelis, but it seems odd to cast someone who often delivers the text unclearly in such an important role but you can see why at the end of the play when the actor at last raises his head and we see his realisation and then returns, eyes streaming blood and delivering real passion - it doesn't need words, the emotion is so truly and powerfully presented.

In contrast some of the better spoken roles are played very flatly but there is a strong Jocasta from Jackie Skarvellis, at first blocking out her understanding of who her husband is and then accepting the horrid working out of the prophecy. As the old soothsayer Tiresias, Gencoo Ashizawa really does seem blind; a carefully thought out performance, a breathy old man, full of wheezing, but spoken clearly.

The set designer has patterned the surrounds with multiple eyes and what may be origami stars. Some look like the blue eye to ward off evil or maybe they are the eyes of fate and history. A large stone is the only physical piece of scenery used as a sort of throne from which the public can be addressed, not just by Oedipus but by some of the citizens who form the chorus, and Alessandra Colombia's costumes suggest the classical without reflecting any particular period.

The chorus sometimes speak together but individual statements are usually spoken by one voice with Manos Koutsis, who also delivers the description of the (offstage) suicide and self-mutilation to the people, providing a strong core voice. However except when ritually around the altar there is little unity in their movement and, as with several other actors, the director has allowed them far too much aimless movement when stillness would be more effective.

This is a straightforward production of Oedipus Tyrannos that does not impose any directorial concept but lets the text, in Taylor's unpompous and natural sounding translation, do the work and though some of the acting is uneven, it allows the quality of this great tragedy to live. For more than fifty years George Eugeniou has run theatre Technis and brought Greek and international theatre to Camden Town as well as providing a centre for the Cypriot and Greek community in London. This is only the latest of his productions of classic drama; long may they continue.

Run ends 26th February 2011

Reviewer: Howard Loxton