This fresh Australian take on an ancient Greek tale makes the audience voyeurs of true-crime tragedy-porn from the outer suburbs
Think of the Greek tragedies as ancient instructions for living. They are some of the earliest forms of western theatre as we know it, designed to impress upon their audience various moral and social imperatives. They have been reinterpreted and re-imagined more times than anyone can count, held up over and over as studies of family pain, as allegories for own struggles with faith and against the state, as well as the tormented relationships we have with our humanity.
The latest take on Sophocles’ Theban Plays is Daniel Evans’ Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which received the 2014-15 Queensland Premier’s Drama Award. Here, the myth is ripped up as notorious memory. Young people from an outer Australian suburb (the program note name-checks places like Campbelltown and Mt Druitt) have borne witness to the Oedipus tragedy. And with the media circus having moved on to its next bloodbath, the people left behind are no longer allowed to talk about what went down at Oedipus and Jocasta’s house; parents and community figures won’t hear it spoken of. But they can’t ignore the horror they have lived with and lived through, so they retell it as a re-enactment game, for us in the audience. And who are we? We’re the outsiders, here in their suburb to gawk at the true crime porn.
The story itself goes something like this: Laius is married to Jocasta, but his evildoings have seen him cursed by the gods. They say if he has a son, that son will kill him and marry his wife. He does have a son – Oedipus – and that’s exactly what happens, albeit unbeknownst to either party. When Oedipus and Jocasta discover the truth, well, it isn’t pretty. Then their sons start a war and their daughters are left to deal with the bodies of their brothers. There’s a lot of death, a lot of blood. Generations of pain and destruction.
And in this play, it’s all told by four mouthy young adults passing around a megaphone on a set strangled with graffiti. Director Fraser Corfield helms a scrappy and snappy production; the four actors (Caitlin Burley, Jeremi Campese, Mia Evans Rorris, and Joshua McElroy) fill the stage with quick-change personalities and infectious playfulness. They handle topics as harrowing as abuse, rape, and murder with curiosity and morbid respect; they build a community of commentators, reacting to each event from as many perspectives as they can cobble together. What springs forth is a story that could almost (the wrath of gods excepted) be any story in the local news, any family permanently broken by domestic violence, epidemics or wars big and small.
It isn’t a new comparison to be drawn by any means, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an entertaining one. Evans’ play is bursting with lively wit and it’s perfectly at home at ATYP, examining the legacy of very old theatre through the eyes of the young, sprucing up the classics for teens in a way that manages to avoid feeling patronising. His youth-speak sits naturally in the ensemble’s mouths, earning ripple after ripple of audience laughter. Melanie Liertz’s set and costume design is a wonderful riot of western suburbs realness, and Emma Lockhart-Wilson lights and Steve Francis’s sound design, with Chrysoulla Markoulli’s compositions, help us know where to look and which thread of the story to follow – a necessity in this work of rotating narrators and perspectives.
It's a light touch on a terrible tale, but it’s a good introduction to these ancient stories for the senior high schooler, or young person, in your life. There’s nothing even close to a chore about this tour through the past: it seems to live and breathe right in front of us.
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