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The World According to Me
Sunday, 3 July 2005
Oedipus Rex - Review
Now Playing: Dalaras & Bregovic - With Two Canvas Shoes

As a frequent visitor to the Festival of Epidaurus, and a committed practitioner and scholar of Ancient Greek Drama, it is always with excitement that I approach the ancient theatre for a performance. Usually my first impression of the production will be the scale (or lack thereof) of the setting. This summer’s performance of Oidipous Tyrranos, directed by and starring Giorgos Kimoulis, judged by its set and lights alone, was bound to be spectacular. In keeping with this grandeur was the list of contributors of the performance – Kimoulis as Oidipous, and Nonika Galinea as Jocasta, with music by Goran Bregovic and (perhaps the reason the theatre was so full when I attended on Saturday July 2nd) Giorgos Dalaras as the leader of the chorus.

With this striking setting, large cast and high-profile contributors, this production seemed to me (as a non-Greek audience member) an exciting prospect. The action of the play began slowly, with various members of the chorus and a little boy gathering on stage. Soon Dalaras emerged from the chorus (and, like Thespis, showed no sign thereafter of ever retreating to the group) and it became clear that a large proportion of the audience was there to hear him singing, perhaps even regardless of the play.

As the suppliants, who open Sophocles’ play, appeared – a group of young women and one old man – and made offerings in the well at the front of Pavel Dobrzycki’s multi-layered, multi-textured set, a rare wind blew dust and sand across the orchestra. This, coupled with the harsh yellow light from the scaffolding about the black, ruined, lop-sided skene, gave a wonderful impression of the sickness and despair afflicting Oidipous’ Thebes. This chance, accidental moment, however, made me realize that this theatre always defeats those who attempt to overcome or outshine her – despite the spectacular set design (complete even with pools of water on the stage!) – the most striking moment of the production came almost in spite of all this excessive scenography.

In the setting of Epidaurus, it is difficult not to be reminded of other performances there, or indeed to compare differing productions of the same play. After Ninagawa’s youthful, energetic Oedipus and Jocasta at the Herodeion last year – where, at least, there was a sense of the destruction and immediacy of the tragic downfall of the protagonists – Kimoulis and Galinea seemed far too old for the roles. (That said, I am unfamiliar with performance conventions and tradtions here in Greece, where perhaps these roles are reserved for more mature actors). Teiresias was also reminiscent of a Japanese production – in 2002, Suzuki Tadashi’s Oedipus also appeared in a wheelchair in Epidaurus, but unlike Arto Apartian’s Teiresias, Suzuki’s forsook neither his chair nor his dignity.

The real star of this production, however, was the extremely-talented but misplaced Dalaras. At the expense even of the symmetry of the play and the balance of the show, his coryphaeus was forgrounded throughout the performance. He was costumed differently from everyone else on stage, and although its “leader”, seemed quite removed from the chorus. Bregovic’s music – very recognizably Balkan, and wonderful in its own right – seemed totally out of place here, and would maybe be better in comedy. After the first few minutes of the play, I thought perhaps that all these differing sign-systems – music, costume, set, lighting, acting, and the “star” singer – would combine to create meaning in the production, but for me they did not. It seemed more that each contributor – actor/director, designer, composer – and most particularly singer – had an individual agenda and a vanity to be appeased. This kind of production – all sound and fury signifying nothing – typifies what is wrong with the production of ancient Greek drama today. The “sickness” I mentioned afflicts not only Thebes, but contemporary performance, and – as the Sophoclean oracle stated – until the hubris and pollution are removed, life and purity can never be restored.

Written by Conor at 12:01 AM KDT
Updated: Sunday, 24 July 2005 12:29 PM KDT

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