Oedipus by Steven Berkoff (After Sophocles)

This interpretation of Sophocles' much-repeated tale of incest and murder isn't as radical a departure from the original as I was expecting, given the hijacked authorship of the title. This isn't a bad thing at all - the script is at times a very tight translation of the original, and many aspects of the staging, particularly the chorus-work, have a real authenticity to them.And insofar as this production remains a straight Oedipus, it performs well. The interactions between Oedipus and his extremely mobile chorus are superb. His 'first among equals' statesmanship is emphatically confirmed as they crowd around him and react, sometimes explosively, to his every word. This play can all-too-often be viewed as a solely personal tragedy (cheers, Freud), but Berkoff keeps the political elements firmly in the spotlight as well.I'm still a little unsure about the physical theatre elements of the production. At the beginning the movements are exciting and seem to add quite a lot to what's being said, but as the play rolls on similar sequences repeat themselves and the cast giving overt physical expression to their every word becomes wearisome and one-dimensional. Another issue with this incessant physicality is that acting out so much of the story's violence (strictly offstage in the original) is strangely anticlimactic. Oedipus battering his eyes out was nowhere near as harrowing as I had hoped, despite the slo-mo-Psycho violin screeches which accompanied each gouge.But the real thing which bothered me about Berkoff was his oddly comic take on the story. It is possible to find comedy in Oedipus; but giggling at silly faces, silly movements, or a knowing pun about something Oedipus hasn't realised yet are poor substitutes for the harrowing, creeping ironies of the original. Oedipus Rex was Aristotle's favourite play because of its perfect logic and clockwork precision – slacken the tension with comedy even a little and much of its huge power is immediately lost. Berkoff himself, who plays Creon as well as directing, is the worst for this – often strutting ridiculously or doing a funny voice for no better reason than showing off.Berkoff's Oedipus is powerful in places and the cast are very competent. But confused directorial decisions and issues with tone mean that the production is only moderately successful in telling the story it sets out to tell. Feel free to shirk off Berkoff this fringe and see some other mother lover.

The Blurb

Acclaimed new version of the enduring classic, brought to vivid life by master director Berkoff and his ensemble of eleven actors. 'The bravest, most exciting and moving Greek tragedy in years.' **** (Sunday Times).