by Jeremy Kingston.
Tristan Bates Theatre 1A Tower Street WC2 9NP To 8 February 2014.
Tue–Sat 7.30pm Mat Sun 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS:0207 240 6283.
Review: William Russell 19 January.
Oedipus wrecked – Sophocles far from ruined.
This is effectively two plays, act one retelling Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. Oedipus encounters King Laius of Thebes on the highway, kills him, then saves Thebes from a monster called the Sphinx.
His reward is the hand of Queen Jocasta by whom he has several children. Beset by plots, Oedipus, powerfully played by Tom Shepherd, discovers the truth about his birth, Jocasta hangs herself and he blinds himself with the pins of her hair ornaments.
Kingston’s retelling is crisp and to the point, with a gloriously witty commentary delivered beautifully by two Citizens of Thebes (Judi Scott, all matronly concern, and Luke Hornsby-Smith, young and willing to believe whatever he is told) as they make the best of a bad job.
In act two, we are at those fatal crossroads some years before, where Oedipus encounters Laius and kills him. Except Kingston has come up with a splendidly anarchic tale in which nothing is as it should be according to the books.
History is what we make of it, the past whatever we are allowed to know – think of all those state documents locked up for 30 or more years, the dicey dossiers and the eminent persons who must not be embarrassed.
Sophocles was writing about the inexorable workings of fate. Kingston is writing about something quite different, suggesting that had Oedipus, instead of killing Laius, struck up a conversation and found out things he did not know, much to the rage of blind prophet Tiresias, who had other plans – and is not even blind – things might have worked out quite differently for him.
It is a brilliant diversion and the performances, under Robert Gillespie’s direction, splendid with Jack Klaff coming into his own as Laius. Shepherd dazzles in both plays, as totally different men. His Oedipus the King fumes with bottled-up rage and suspicion. His Oedipus at the Crossroads is a nice young man wondering why on earth things are working out so badly for him and his fat ankles.
This is the play’s first time in the West End; it proves a most rewarding, stimulating piece of theatre.
Oedipus the King:
Oedipus: Tom Shepherd.
Kreon: Jack Klaff.
Jocasta/Servant: Clare Cameron.
Shepherd: David Shaw-Parker.
Priest/Corinthian: Steve Watts.
Citizen 1: Judi Scott.
Citizen 2: Luke Hornsby-Smith.
Oedipus at the Crossroads:
Oedipus: Tom Shepherd.
Laius: Jack Klaff.
Shepherd (Polyphontes); David Shaw-Parker.
Tiresias: Richard Earthy.
Attendant: Luke Hornsby-Smith.
Soldier (Chrysippus): Clare Cameron.
Director: Robert Gillespie.
Designer: Faye Bradley.
Lighting: Rob Mills.
Fight director: Claire Llewellyn, RC Annie.