Complex Issues: Getting to grips with Oedipus

Incendiary drama has just stepped up a gear now that the National Theatre's hotly anticipated revival of Sophocles' Oedipus has arrived on the Olivier stage starring Ralph Fiennes, Clare Higgins and Alan Howard, as Michael Coveney explains when he goes in search of the ultimate Greek tragedy. ………….

……… the new benchmark is really the Peter Hall production of both Oedipus plays at Epidaurus in Greece and the National's Olivier in 1996, in a translation by Ranjit Bolt that did not fight shy of banality, nor fail the high-flown rhetoric, and with actors wearing masks as voice-boxes in the ancient Greek theatre manner.

The new National Teiresias, Alan Howard, played the king. I shall never forget him, silver-tongued and swaying slightly, emerging from the distant trees in the forest around Epidaurus before ascending the 50-foot platform extended into the plague-infested city of Thebes, where ten burning oil drums defined the circle of the action, and 10,000 people sat beneath an open sky for shared tales of horror and revelation.

In the second Oedipus play, Howard's vocal range encompassed a shivering wisdom in the pathos, and a granite-like stoicism that prepared him well for the later challenges with Hall of King Lear and Waiting for Godot.

Michael Coveney

What's On Stage Magazine, 11 October 2008