Scottish Opera's Greek takes a fresh look at the Oedipus myth

Scottish Opera's Greek takes a fresh look at the Oedipus myth

credit: Jane Hobson

Emerging Artist Alex Otterburn takes on the lead role of 'Eddy'

'You shouldn't have sex with your mother' is a pretty unambiguous message to take away from Scottish Opera's production of Mark-Anthony Turnage's re-telling of the Oedipus myth, based on Steven Berkoff's 1980 play of the same name. Following great success at the 2017 Edinburgh International Festival, the opera is on again for two nights only in Glasgow at the beginning of February.

Taking the lead role of Eddy once more, and the source of the sound advice above, is Scottish Opera Emerging Artist, Alex Otterburn. 'It's not really a normal sort of revival,' he says, 'as it's within the same season so very much still in the bones.' In-between times, however, Otterburn has had to think Verdi and Traviata for Scottish Opera's autumn production, a completely different kettle of operatic fish, but such is the life of the professional singer.

In Greek, Eddy lives in a seedy, grubby sort of world, with nothing on the horizon for a better future. When, like Oedipus, the prophecy of killing his father and sleeping with his mother comes true, the whole trauma that unfolds is brilliantly conveyed in the Turnage / Berkoff in-your-face, anarchic version of the tale.

In Berkoff's own description of the piece, he said, 'Greek came to me via Sophocles, trickling its way down the millennia until it reached the unimaginable wastelands of Tufnell Park … In my eyes, Britain seemed to have become a gradually decaying island, preyed upon by the wandering hordes who saw no future for themselves in a society which had few ideals or messages to offer them.'

For Otterburn, there are parallels with that desolate Britain of the 80s and what is going on politically, socially and economically today, as well as with the original play itself. 'The production is very different to a piece of standard theatre,' he says, 'with no stage furniture and leaving you with a bare, stripped-down feeling, which is how Greek tragedy was originally set.

'Alongside that, I think that more than ever this piece is relevant to us today. It is a time of overwhelming political change and division, and apart from direct comparisons from the 80s, we are also in a world of instability, whether to do with the Arab Spring or Trump. The 80s were a time of unemployment, strikes and strife and, as a direct parallel, we could hardly be more politically in turmoil. We're reflecting these times now.'

As if that's not depressing enough, the character of Eddy simply cannot escape his true destiny. There is however, a glimmer of hope. 'The wonderful thing is', says Otterburn, 'that inbuilt within the opera is the idea of the circular nature of fate and destiny. Things come in cycles, for instance liberalism and tolerance turn in on themselves and breed intolerance. But we always move forward, in a sort of looping circle that goes on and on.' A rugby-playing economics graduate who only started singing when he was 19, Otterburn's own destiny, fate or otherwise, is undoubtedly one to watch out for.

Greek, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Fri 2 & Sat 3 February.

Scottish Opera: Greek

Mary-Anthony Turnage's opera version of Steven Berkoff's take on the Oedipus story is one of the most blistering modern operas. This production was originally directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins (revival director: Daisy Evans) and features Susan Bullock, Allison Cook, Andrew Shore and Alex Otterburn. Warning: contains swearing…

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