Sunday, 26 October 2008


Sunday matinee at the National and a packed house to see Oedipus translated from Sophocles by Frank McGuinness, whose created a sparse, intellectual, - dare I suggest - protestant reading of the text.

The big challenge for rationalists faced with Greek tragedy to overcome the desire to plead to the Gods. Surely if Oedipus had no knowledge of his past he shouldn't be punished. Go on Apollo, you feel like saying, I know incest isn't clever, but how could he know? Go on, let him off with a warning. After all what can we learn about the human condition when all that happens is the tragic unraveling of innocence?

This version, played out on a bronze set tarnished by time and neglect, to rusted green, suggests that it's exactly our arrogant appeal to ignorance that sets up the conflict and leads to our inevitable destruction. There is no second chance, no appeal procedure. An operatic chorus, dressed soberly in work day suits, takes us from a harmonic memory of Oedipus' earlier triumphs in outsmarting the Sphinx to a final dirge as they pound their way unrelentingly across the stage to their own deaths singing: 'Dust you will become, so be content.'

Ralph Fiennes is magnificent in the title role - unable to avoid his own questions. He is noble enough to be certain of his fate, but enlightened enough to want to push through his own analysis. It's a performance of controlled power and inner pain. The primal scream of final realisation, when the puzzle of his past is complete, and truth can no longer be avoided, rips through the heart. It's a sound that almost physically climbs the concrete walls of the Olivier.

The play has a vocally muscular cast and Fiennes is brilliantly supported by, amongst others, Clare Higgins' shrewdly pragmatic Jocasta, Alan Howard's world weary Teiresias and Jaspar Britton's opportunistic Creon.

It's a bleak vision of our immodesty in the face of divine intervention.

1 comment:

Vicki McLeod said...

It drives me crazy that you get to see these fantastic shows and I get to see bugger all - Mallorca is a cultural desert! Arrghs!