The mother of Greek tragedies

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&entertainment -

Olivier, Na­tional The­atre, Lon­don SE1

As rALPH Fi­ennes’s Oed­pius tries to calm the fear­ful peo­ple of Thebes, you could be for­given for mis­tak­ing him for a more mod­ern, though equally emo­tion­ally re­mote leader at­tempt­ing to res­cue his peo­ple in a cri­sis.

But­com­par­ison­swith­Gor­donBrown have to stop there. De­spite Jonathan Kent’s pro­duc­tion be­ing mainly pop­u­lated by men in suits who look like gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, when it comes to Greek tragedy you can go only go so far with mod­ern rel­e­vance. What drives sopho­cles’s play, here trans­lated by Frank McGuin­ness, is an an­cient ques­tion — are we ruled by our­selves or by God?

“Apollo dances to see me suf­fer,” cries Fi­ennes’s Oedi­pus, his gouged eyes a self-in­flicted pu­n­ish­ment for his un­in­tended crime of killing his fa­ther and mar­ry­ing his mother. For most of its tense un­in­ter­rupted 100 min­utes, Kent’s pro­duc­tion moves in­ex­orably and el­e­gantly to­wards this un­bear­able mo­ment of re­al­i­sa­tion. As the Olivier’s round stage slowly re­volves, so the truth un­rav­els. And when that mo­ment comes, Fi­ennes’s Oedi­pus ex­hales a cry un­til his scream be­comes si­lent.

even more painful to watch is his wife and mother Jo­casta, played by a bullish Clare Hig­gins, who stands des­o­late at the re­al­i­sa­tion that her son is the fa­ther of her chil­dren. Be­fore then, Alan Howard’s an­gry and blind prophet Teire­sias por­tends the com­ing bleak­ness when he ar­rives led by a rope at­tached to his slave’s neck, just like Pozzo in Beck­ett’s Wait­ing for Godot.

But­theeveningisinevitablyFi­ennes’s who em­bod­ies the truth that those who suf­fer most usu­ally de­serve it least. (Tel: 020 7452 3000)

The Young Vic, Lon­don SE1

LAsT yeAr young Amer­i­can Tarell Alvin McCraney made an as­tound­ing young Vic de­but with The Broth­ers Size, his lyri­cal sib­ling play set in Louisiana.

McCraney uses Nige­rian yoruba tra­di­tions to tell Amer­i­can sto­ries. His lat­est of­fer­ing, which is in fact the pre­quel to the The Broth­ers Size, de­picts Louisiana’s post-Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina flood­plain by turn­ing the young Vic’s main au­di­to­rium into what looks like a cir­cu­lar swim­ming pool. yet when, in Wal­ter Meier­jo­hann’s beau­ti­fully per­formed and bravely staged pro­duc­tion, the cast splash into their per­for­mances, the wa- ter is re­vealed to be only an­kle-deep.

The fo­cus here is on Oya (Ony Uhiara) an ath­lete who re­fuses a schol­ar­ship from the state uni­ver­sity to stay with her ill mother. It is a de­ci­sion that keeps her locked into the poverty that traps an en­tire com­mu­nity, where hav­ing a baby is the only al­ter­na­tive to do­ing noth­ing. And so Oya is left des­o­late when nei­ther Ashley Wal­ter’s swag­ger­ing shango and Javone Prince’s homely Ogun man­age to im­preg­nate her.

Much of what made The Broth­ers Size so tri­umphant is present here, notably the wit and af­fec­tion that is be­com­ing McCraney’s trade­mark, and that the cast speak their own stage di­rec­tions, which gives the sense of a story be­ing told as well as acted.

Fol­low­ing an en­cour­ag­ing first act, the plot­ting fiz­zles out in the sec­ond act. still, McCraney, who has been adopted by the rsC as its in­ter­na­tional play­wright in res­i­dence, is clearly ful­fill­ing the prom­ise of a huge tal­ent. (Tel: 020 7922 2922)

New End The­atre, Lon­don NW3

yOUDON’Thave­to­beFreud­toguess that a per­se­cuted, Jewish, gay, ven­tril­o­quist might ben­e­fit from anal­y­sis. In this one-man two-han­der, writ­ten and per­formed by south African Graeme Messer, ther­apy has come a lit­tle late for Holo­caust sur­vivor Nathan. On his 100th birth­day, he has re­turned from the dead to rake over the past with his al­ter ego Otto, the eerie ven­tril­o­quist’s doll who part­nered him in a cabaret act be­fore be­ing sep­a­rated from his owner when Nathan was sent to a con­cen­tra­tion camp. Otto, mean­while, was pressed into ser­vice en­ter­tain­ing Nazis — though not on his own, ob­vi­ously.

It is hard to shake the sense the play and Chrys salt’s pro­duc­tion ex­ists more to pro­vide a ve­hi­cle for Messer’s par­tic­u­lar tal­ents and pre­oc­cu­pa­tions than to tell the story of en­ter­tain­ers trapped by the Holo­caust. Otto and Nathan are the clas­sic dom­i­nant doll/sub­mis­sive hu­man case study. In just 60 min­utes Messer’s themes are not fully ex­plored, but in the quick-fire ex­changes he tells Nathan’s and Otto’s story with a great deal of skill, and for the most part without mov­ing his lips. (Tel: 0870 033 2733)

Clare Hig­gins dis­cov­ers the aw­ful truth about her hus­band Ralph Fi­ennes in the Na­tional’s stag­ing of Oedi­pus

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