Review: Seeking Oedipus, Purcell Room
Written for Culture Wars, 20.01.2009
Seeking Oedipus is the show to launch a thousand showers. Theatre of Silence’s physical retelling inflicts a revulsion that leaves your skin crawling and oleaginous. Liberated from the text and reliant on depiction over description, it writhes in visceral, visual metaphors and drips with disgust at the animal human.
The myth is here strongly structured around its three sexual encounters: Laius’ pederastic rape of Chryssipus, the conception of Oedipus between Laius and Jocasta, and, finally, the unwitting incest of Oedipus and his mother. At the height of each, there is a solar eclipse, as if, for a brief second, the natural order has fallen out of alignment. The passing shadow conjures in us the sharp, electric judder of guilt – like a glitch in the brain – in contrast to the fleeting ecstasy of the characters.
Guilty paralysis seems to carve cavernous hollows in each of the characters as they reflect upon their animalistic actions. Sex is predatory, full of teeth gnashing at necks like hyenas tearing at a carcass. Power becomes pathetic as Oedipus and Jocasta rule over and romp within a rubbish dump of discarded clothes. In the lurking presence of the bald, androgynous prophet Teiresius – perched vulture-like and invisible amidst the action – is the fatal inevitability of repercussions and conscience.
The success of Seeking Oedipus resides in the density of its images. It is a piece packed with possibilities, unafraid of individual interpretation, while simultaneously exacting a universal reaction in its audience. Played both as an abstract epic of almost operatic scale and as a singular cycle of tragic felonies, it holds a humid beauty both lofty and base. Aspasia Kralli’s ramped design suggests the barren mountains of Greece without binding the piece too firmly; her direction instils incredible clarity to the plot whilst revelling in its imagery to stir up intense feelings and dark thoughts.
Seeking Oedipus is a bold and brilliant piece of theatre, caught between traditions of Ancient Greece, Marcel Marceau and Pina Bausch. It delights the eyes and rouses the feelings in a way that everyday life is unable to do. Absolutely unforgettable.