Thebes- New Diorama Theatre, London

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.

Writer: Gareth Jandrell (after Sophocles and Aeschylus)

Director: Rachel Valentine Smith

Reviewer: Alice McGuigan

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★☆

Photo: Charlie Ward
Photo: Charlie Ward

“I vow to save you once more, my Thebes. My city” promises King Oedipus, unaware that his own fate has already set its suffering in motion. Presented by The Faction and written by Gareth Jandrell, this modern adaptation condenses Sophocles’ and Aeschylus’ classical Theban plays. King Oedipus banishes himself from the throne upon discovering that a prophecy destining him to crimes of incest and murder is true. After a battle over Thebes, Creon is appointed King and Oedipus’s daughter, Antigone, suffers as a result of his unjust demands. Giving it new pace and surprising moments of wit, Jandrell bravely encapsulates these events, which stretch across a timeline of three Greek tragedies, into one highly dramatic and powerful play.

The piece opens with a hanging noose penetrating the empty space on stage. Foreshadowing death from the very beginning, this is just one example of how director, Rachel Valentine Smith, uses props to ensure an on-going, prominent sense of death and foreboding. Eventually, Jocasta’s dress, Oedipus’s eye bandage and Megareus’s trainers also hang symbolically; a constant reminder of the curse which hangs over Thebes. The props are also distorted to dramatically frame the stark images of death throughout. Haemon’s blade sticks out of his body as an elongated pole which diagonally cuts across and towers above the stage and the despairing Creon.

Smith’s direction of the Greek chorus is smoothly executed as the ensemble effortlessly roll, lunge and huddle as one entity; a flurry of grey and black, their faces are shadowed under modern attire of hoods and headscarves. The black box space is energised by their sharply cued, engaging representations of the people of Thebes. At minor points, the sounds or movements of the chorus are incongruous. The muttering of lines like “chatter” in the background are not always effective as they end up being more disruptive than atmospheric.

Their synchronic image is also momentarily broken as some members of the chorus react to the action on stage, while others remain neutral. However, the soundscape vocalised by the chorus that hisses, wails and thumps its way through the story is often bold and enchanting, especially when it takes centre-stage. The horror of Oedipus gouging out his eyes is largely evoked by the chorus’s melodramatic reaction.

The cast perform multiple roles with strong conviction, drifting in and out of the chorus to distinguish themselves as key figures in the plot. Derval Mellett performs the bitter and strong-minded Antigone by toying between sarcastic feistiness and quiet vulnerability, while Cary Crankson carefully underplays Creon’s stoic nature. Nonetheless, it is the unexpected comic moments which Jandrell feeds into the dialogue that stand out with a refreshing spin. Most memorable is Christopher Hughes’s transition from the moving role of Megareus into the ridiculous guard who reports Antigone. Hughes makes the most of the new text’s modern idioms, emphasising the guard as a waffling fool who comically contrasts Creon’s cold rage.

By drawing the essence of each play into one, Jandrell puts them into a bigger context. This is no longer just the story of Oedipus or Antigone alone, but the myth of Thebes itself. ‘This city crumbles. The people rust in your arms.”

Runs until 22nd February



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