More London Free Festival: Prince of Thebes

Free

The legend of Oedipus isn’t exactly the stuff of children’s stories, but classical literature’s most famous incest survivor did indulge in some reasonably harmless derring-do before that whole business with his mum turned things sour.

Steam Industry Free Theatre’s new kids’ play is a sort of U-rated prologue to ‘Oedipus & Antigone’ , the dark ‘main’ show in the company’s annual free season at the Scoop. And ‘Prince of Thebes’ sensibly incorporates some of the doomed nobleman’s better-known pre-’Oedipus Rex’ antics into its story, most notably the impressive puppet sphinx that confronts our young hero at the end.

Nonetheless, for the most part it’s less swashbuckling romp, more silly panto. After a slightly laboured encounter with the Oracle at Delphi, young Oedipus (Philip Scott-Wallace) acquires a posse, centred on jolly hockey sticks gal pal Pandora (Charlotte Whitaker) – out to recapture the ills of the world – and Archie (Joseph Wicks), a talking bear with a love of puns.

The play is very loud, there’s a lot of singing of clunkily reworded modern pop songs, and Archie makes some uncomfortably sour quips that don’t seem entirely in keeping with the young audience.

It’s a very winsome cast and there are much worse things you could be doing with your kids (just ask Jocasta!), but the production never finds a comfortable note until its rollicking climax, pinging through a panto-ish plot that lacks the madcap invention and subversive humour of the best Christmas shows.

By Andrzej Lukowski

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