The Kingdom

Colin Teevan
Three Legged Theatre Company
Soho Theatre Upstairs

Owen O’Neill, Anthony Delaney and Gary Lilburn Credit: Robert Day
Anthony Delaney and Gary Lilburn Credit: Robert Day

Colin Teevan has written a short but ambitious drama that seeks to translate the Oedipus story to the ambit of Anglo-Irish navvies at some point in the last few decades.

The underlying idea cannot be faulted and there are some scenes through which the playwright's empathy with the plight of the put-upon Irish working man shines.

Three actors take all of the parts, relating a story that shifts across time in both directions. They perform while moving rocks and rubble around Jessica Curtis's depressingly well-designed set, which features an almost statuesque mound of stones at the back of the small studio space.

The core facts are that a proud, young man (or possibly more than one) has had a bad time at school and, after taking revenge on a mean master, runs away.

In doing so, he is confronted by a building contractor and his gang. The hot-headed youth stands up for himself, with the kind of consequences that only get played out in Greek tragedies.

This is all powerful and poetic stuff, given muscle by the acting trio of Anthony Delaney, Owen O'Neill and Gary Lilburn, under the direction of Lucy Pitt-Wallace.

The much-needed early exposition is delivered in two parts involving all three actors, delivered alternately with great rapidity. This is far from ideal, as it will leave many viewers struggling to piece together what has happened and who is who, even if they are familiar with the Oedipus story and spot it early enough.

Others will miss much of the cleverness of the mythical storytelling but can still enjoy a tale of noble Irish workhorses rising up against unworthy masters from either side of the Irish Sea, albeit with tragic consequences after so much hope. There may well be other embedded messages, perhaps about how wealth can corrupt or disappear in a trice.

The Kingdom itself is another mystery, seemingly nothing more than a symbolic English housing estate or business empire.

With all of these issues of comprehension, for most viewers the 75-minute long drama will probably require two visits or possibly a sight of the text in order to get full value.

This is a great pity as there is undoubtedly considerable power in the tale but it loses far too much as a result of lack of clarity in the telling and the production would benefit from some reworking.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher