Oedipus Rex, the greatest of the Greek tragedies tells a shocking, profoundly immoral story, one that cannot leave the heart untouched and the mind pondering the pitiless ties of fate. Oedipus searches for truth no matter how terrible the cost! As a result of his search he unwittingly commits the terrible deeds he had hoped to avoid. When he finally discovers the terrible nature of his crimes he literally blinds himself in guilt.
Swedish playwright Lars Noren has written what he believes to be a modern day Oedipus, to which he has added his own embellished version of Freud’s Oedipus complex. However, his play, translated by Maja Zade, contains little tragedy and heaps of pretentious melodramatics. One is able to discover the terrible ‘truth’ at the heart of this play long before it has had the opportunity to ferment into heart rendering tragedy.
Presenter Madeleine H on the art programme ‘Imago’ is interviewing Francesca Annis’s Rosa, a war journalist. During the interview we learn that Rosa was deported from Pinochet’s Chile after being tortured along with her husband Eric. At the time of their arrest in Chile their eight-year-old son Paolo was taken from them and is now counted amongst Pinochet's missing. Rosa’s husband Eric is a psychiatrist, who is having an affair with one of his ex-patients Luca, a disturbed young man with an injured foot who is desperate to know if his parents, who disappeared when he was just a boy, are dead or alive.
Just in case the audience may have missed the many parallels to Oedipus Rex, there is a scene in which Rosa and Nicholas Le Prevost’s Eric enter their apartment having just seen one of the six productions of Oedipus that have played in Paris that year. And towards the end of the play, the same art programme is interviewing Tom Hardy’s Luca, commenting on “how the borders between life and art have been demolished” and in the comparison between Oedipus Rex and the atrocities in Chile and other countries of Central America we have the offensively pretentious line “those are collective Oedipus tragedies”.
Comparing the fate of the missing thousands in Chile, or the victims of terrible atrocities in other parts of the world, with Oedipus Rex in such a cold calculating way as Lars Noren has done is tasteless. It is these offensive comments that expose the problems with this vacuous play. The characters in James MacDonald’s production are painted in cold clinical colours and Rosa and Eric remain detached and barren. The patent comparisons with Oedipus dominate the script and as a result the characters have become objectified. There is no one to love or hate, no one to pity; one remains indifferent to both them and their plight.
In the play Rosa persuades her husband to simulate the sexual abuse and violence she suffered when tortured in Chile, he obliges by tying her to a chair, calling her a Jewish whore, and beating her. A rapist can often excuse the act of rape by fooling himself that it is what the victim really wants, are we to believe that the torturer is capable of the same justification?
Atrocities happen in the world, whether it be in Africa, the Balkans, the middle East etc, but the idea that like Oedipus we are trapped by fate to repeat these things and that the explanation is to be discovered in what can only be called glib-psychology is pure pretentiousness. As Rosa says to Eric, “There are some thoughts we shouldn’t think, because they open the gates of hell….and then we get use to stepping through them and disappearing. That’s what I want.”
The gates of hell are to be found at the Royal Court when one unfortunately sits down to watch this disastrous play. Even the acting, as good as it is, is unable to cut through this dross.
What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Despite the play's defects....I was absolutely mesmerised." SUSSANAH CLAPP for THE OBSERVER says, "A dispiriting mixture of silliness and sophistication." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Exquisitely gripping." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Only masochists are likely to want to see so boring, silly, exploitative a play."