Smoke shrouds the stage. Shadowy figures wander through the mist. Audience members young and old sit at the edges of their seats, entranced, immersed in the land of Thebes.
The Lazarus Theatre company brings Sophocles’s Greek drama “Oedipus” to life at Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell from Feb. 28 to March 23. In a battle-torn land, Oedipus stands tall as a king and leader. However, upon hearing of a prophecy made at his birth – that he would kill his father and marry his mother– he embarks on a search for the truth, scourging his past, but in doing so, he brings ruin to his family, his land and himself.
Most people know about the story of Oedipus because of Freud’s concept, the “Oedipus complex.” Director Ricky Dukes’s production plays on the audience’s own knowledge of the play: slow-motion choreography and James Fogarty’s haunting music intensifies the tension. Several staging choices also cleverly mirror the play’s themes; for example, the constant smoke and incense in each scene symbolizes Oedipus’s own confusion. The scene changes, in which nurses offer insight by praying to the Gods or mourning the discord in the country, are the most stirring, as actors leer at the audience, don gas masks and twitch animatedly, adding to the audience’s anxiety.
However, Robin Holden as Oedipus and Samantha Anderson as Jocasta, Oedipus’s wife, are the ones who steal the show. Holden perfectly portrays the pompous king transformed into a desolate wanderer, while Anderson delivers a heart-breaking speech about her son while remaining regal throughout. Other great performances are those of Andrew Glen as the compassionate priest, Nasa Ohalet as the soldier who tearfully delivers the news of the queen’s death, Alec Parkinson as Oedipus’s sympathetic brother-in-law, Creon, and Joseph Tweedale as a the blind, wise Tersias.
The fantastic crew succeeded in transforming the stage into a contemporary Thebes, and in doing so, making the play more accessible to modern audiences. “It didn’t feel like an old play,” said Robin Holden. “We tried to make it contemporary, truthful, real.”
And indeed it was, so much so that audience members felt included in the action. Katie Leonowitz, a student from South Kensington, said, “It felt like we were part of the crowd.”
Holden agreed. “There’s no separation. If you’re doing a speech, [the audience] is part of that.”
About his role, Holden said, “It’s been a huge emotional journey.” He will play Oedipus until March 21, when alternative Jack Cosgrove will step in.
Overall, “Oedipus” was an amazing production with talented cast and crew members. See “Oedipus” at Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell from Feb. 28 to March 23. The production is 95 minutes, tickets cost £15 and performances are Tue – Sat at 8 pm.