Oedipus by Steven Berkoff (after Sophocles)
Archly stylised production from a contrary master
Steven Berkoff has written, directed and taken a key role in this quasi-modern retelling of one of Greek mythology’s most notorious plots, and it’s got his contrary stamp all over it. An odd and stylised production set around a huge, long, Last Supper-style table, it pulls you in with a clever image or a carefully constructed set piece, only to push you away again with an awkward contemporary turn of phrase or an unexpected moment of coy humour.
The whole piece is performed with a slow motion, sweeping style of movement that is as by turns effective and wearing as the peculiarly declamatory delivery employed throughout. Both features allow Berkoff to build up a sense of poise and gravity and undercut it all at the same time: at moments of great shock or horror the eight-man chorus writhes and grimaces and gurns with an overwrought solemnity that teeters between the intense and the ridiculous, and when Anita Dobson’s floaty, purring Jocasta, on being told of Oedipus’ terrible prophesied fate deeply intones, ‘Oh … my … god’, it’s hard to take the moment entirely seriously.
For all its archness, though, there’s no doubt this is an absorbing production that manages to bring dramatic tension to a story where everyone knows the grim ending.
Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, until 29 Aug (not 24), 1.20pm, £16–£17.50 (£14–£15.50).