Dan Evans did something that no-one else has ever done – he let me enjoy a work from the ancient Greek tragedies. Mention Socrates or Euripides, Medea or Oedipus and I’ll run a mile, but at the premiere of Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Any More I was enthralled by the story of the man who married his own mother as it was told through the eyes of four young actors, dressed in modern casual clothes, with no set and minimal props who played observers and a multitude of characters in a Greek-style chorus.
The story was helped along by graphics projected onto the huge graffiti mural at the back of the stage and some brilliant direction from, Jason Klarwein. It was a huge directional task to bring those four fine actors – Ellen Bailey, Emily Burton, Joe Klocek and Toby Martin – through all those character changes without so much as an extra prop. But through it all shone the words. Sure there was some bad language; but it was so cleverly used that it was either dramatic or amusing and perfectly in place and character and not once did it seem gratuitous. The story is told in modern language and set in modern times.
The house that the in-fated Oedipus lived had indelible obscene graffiti sprayed across the garage door. We didn’t see it, but heard the word “mothaf***a”; an obscenity yes, but oh so pertinent under the circumstances. The story of the ill-fated, incestuous family was a talking point on Facebook and everywhere else. Tourists would come to pay curious court to the house and mull over its violent history, and the characters told if the eventual decline and fall of the suburban house of Oedipus.
We were taken through the modernised tale of the man and his parents, King Laius and Jocasta, who after being childless for years consulted the Delphi oracle – who prophesied that any son born to Laius would kill him. When Oedipus was born, in an attempt to stop this prophecy from coming true, Laius ordered him to be killed – this was an interesting diversion in the action of the play with a moving esky – but the servant passed the baby on to a shepherd. The infant Oedipus was eventually adopted by the king of Corinth and later a drunk told him he was adopted. Oedipus parents denied this so he went to the same oracle in Delphi that his birth parents had consulted. The oracle informed him he was destined to murder his father and marry his mother. In an attempt to avoid this, he decided to travel to Thebes instead of going home. (Plot courtesy of Wikipedia.)
In the old version, a quarrel over right of way in chariots ended in Laius’s death, but in Evans’ play it was a car crash, that left his mother and future wife Jocasta, a widow. The events came through loud and clear and yet the ancient tale became a thoroughly modern story told in a thoroughly modern way and, being a writer myself, I enjoyed the play as much for its beautiful words as the story-telling.
There could be no praise high enough for the four actors who, with high energy, instant characters changes with body language, a subtle switch in vocal delivery and some fast talking kept the audience either bubbling with laughter or silent in contemplation for more than 100 minutes. I particularly enjoyed Ellen Bailey’s wonderful long speech that incorporated several changes of characters was a highlight of the night. But then so was the war, fought with pointed fingers as guns and vocals “bangs” as bullets. This was a particularly strong and convincing piece of action, as three of the actors tried to sit out a hopeless hostage situation.
My only criticism is that Emily Burton’s long speech at the end seemed out of place and dragged a bit. I would have liked to see the play end dramatically when all the protagonists had died.
But having said that, this is the best piece of “young” writing I’ve watched since Hedonism’s Second Album in August last year. Go and see it.
Company: Queensland Theatre Company
Venue: Bille Brown Studio, South Brisbane
Dates: 23 May – 13 June 2014
For more of Eric Scott’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television