Sunday, January 26, 2014

Oedipus Schmoedipus by post

Photo: Brett Boardman

Oedipus Schmoedipus by post (Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor & Natalie Rose) with Belvoir, in association with Sydney Festival.  At Belvoir St Theatre January 9 – February 2, 2014.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 25

Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor
Photo: Ellis Parrinder

Death!  Should we take it seriously?  In the final moment of Oedipus Schmoedipus the answer is “Yes”.  Blackout!

The seriousness of the ending catches us by surprise when the show has begun with highly realistic – and terribly funny – deaths as depicted in an enormous range of plays by “Great White Writers”, from Sophocles on, to a soundtrack from the most dramatic sections of Verdi’s Requiem and other operatic scenes.  But there was a clue even in that first scene as the women stripped to their bras to reveal strapped on suicide bombs, and the theatre exploded.

Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor
Photo: Ellis Parrinder

The material in the script, mainly a kind of lecture on the nature of death by Zoë and Mish (in their blood-soaked white dresses resulting from their first scene) is an original idea.  They pick up on lines, often by a dying character (Shakespeare gets a good go) and expand on them largely by word association until the idea of death becomes absurd.

But the other very original aspect of this work is that 25 people from the general public volunteer (“without pay” gets a laugh) to take part.  They are, after only a brief rehearsal a few hours before the day’s performance, directed by a highly sophisticated program shown on screens in the wings and above the stage (which the audience can’t see), with stage manager Roxzan Bowes coordinating their cues with the dialogue on stage.  Each volunteer has a personal number, so that instructions can be given about what they say, how they say it, what they do, and what costume they wear – as individuals or in groups – so that they form a continuously changing background comic illustration for the actors’ performance.

The absurdity gets more and more out of hand as the hour long show progresses, all with the dead body of Natalie Rose lying on the stage, until that final moment when we are brought to the point of realising that, absurd or not, we all will die – and it could actually happen this minute.  The blackout, of course, caused all the still living members of the audience to wildly clap, whistle and cheer.

Lights up for the bows, and for a second time, as applause continued and everyone left the stage – except for the dead body.  Pause.  Then stage manager Bowes appears, crosses the stage, and drags the body off – to more cheers.  House lights up – the end.

I thought then of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author(1921), which I don’t think was quoted, where the audience are actually left wondering if an actor (the little girl) has actually been killed, as the stage manager tries to clear the stage and deal with the crisis.  Oedipus Schmoedipus in the end did not go that far.  We all knew that Natalie Rose was not really dead, but she played the part extremely well.  I just hope that, one night, no-one does actually die, on stage or in the audience.  That really wouldn’t be funny!

Mish Grigor, Volunteers, Zoë Coombs Marr
Natalie Rose
Photo: Ellis Parrinder

I guess we can’t really avoid taking death seriously, and we should also take seriously the clever writing and design involving the volunteers who effectively represented us – the ordinary people.  post  say they “take being silly very seriously, and have a deep and true commitment to innovation that doesn’t alienate audiences or get boring.”  They certainly  have achieved their goal in this show.