For five minutes, Lazarus Theatre’s ‘Oedipus’ looks like a winner. A hum rises and crescendos from the darkness and a throng of victorious soldiers emerge from the fog with their king held aloft. Men, pumped by war, holler and cheer, Robin Holden’s Oedipus belittles his dissenters and director Ricky Dukes seems to have turned the intimate Blue Elephant theatre into the Olivier.
What you soon realise, however, is that Dukes has two tricks: hot air and a haze machine. This is basically 90 minutes of silhouettes shouting. Okay, the fug illustrates Oedipus’s blindness to his fate, but it makes it mighty difficult to tell who’s who. Likewise, volume ups the intensity, but it totally bulldozes Sophocles’s great tragedy.
Given the mix of army camos – Falklands, Gulf and WW1 – next to 1940s nurses, Dukes seems to be making a point about the perpetual cycle of war. Other plays serve that better. Oedipus’s tragedy is essentially individual. Fate proves inescapable and time catches up with him.
When it finally does so, Holden improves immeasurably, slowly crumpling as shouty hubris caves into the horror of patricide and incest. Yet, even he’s hindered by a ridiculously OTT – and borderline unactable – script that’s cluttered with empty abstracts, alliteration and cod philosophy. Matt Trueman