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Oedipus

King’s Theatre
Four stars

“We’re going to make some history tonight, I think,” says the popular political leader to his first lady in waiting as he awaits the result of an epoch-changing election in Robert Icke’s radical reworking of Sophocles’ Greek classic. Opening with a TV news mock-up of Oedipus on the street promising the world to the cameras, Icke sets out his store in a slick and straight-lined open-plan office that is Oedipus’ campaign base. Here he comes to let off steam, dress down and catch up with his wife Jocasta and his kids away from the crowds. If Europe is lost, Oedipus is its off-message saviour from everything that is sick. Or he would be if he manages to save himself from his own past.

With flat-screen TV monitors relaying a rolling news feed, and an LED clock counting down the play’s just shy of two-hour duration on Hildegard Bechtler’s set, Icke has created a slow-burning peek into the very private world of public figures, which pokes, prods and picks at the sore of every unwitting indiscretion. Aus Greidanus Jr’s Creon is a spin-doctor on the make, Oedipus’ two boys Polynices and Eteocles are discovering who they are, and his daughter Antigone is finding her own way of doing things.

At the self-destructive heart of Icke’s Internationaal Theater Amsterdam production are Hans Kesting and Marieke Hebink’s towering performances as the doomed couple whose attempt to do good are thwarted by the trickledown effects of their respective pasts. There are hints of this aplenty in the dinner table banter between the family even before Creon attempts to firefight the things that brought the couple together. Where he was a hit and run joyrider, she is the survivor of an abusive relationship.  

Performed in Dutch with English surtitles, Icke’s take on things focuses too on Oedipus’ lack of foresight through a vanity-driven unwillingness to wear glasses and square up to what’s directly in front of him. If such personal turmoil probably wouldn’t exclude him from public office just now, as the office is stripped increasingly bare, it reveals an Oedipus very much for today.

The Herald, August 15th 2019

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