Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Queensland Theatre Company)
The Greenhouse, Bille Brown Studio
May 23 – July 13
I first ‘saw’ Daniel Evans’ “Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” at the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award finalist play reading nights last July. It wasn’t my favourite of the finalists, but I could see why it was named as the winner to be staged as part of QTCs 2015 season. And having seen its full realisation on stage, I am spellbound by its blistering brilliance.
Performed by an ensemble of four actors “Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” re-imagines the classic Greek tale of Oedipus as a contemporary tragedy told in modern language and transposed to the sleepy suburban cul-de-sacs of modern Australian. As the title suggests, Oedipus himself is long gone (cleverly, we don’t ever encounter him on stage). So the story is told through the eyes of the young people left behind to recount the rumour and gossip of the salacious scandal. For while the story may be old and from a now non-existent culture, it contains many themes that are applicable to our modern world.
There is not denying that this is a confronting narrative. Accidently fulfilling prophecy, Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother, thereby causing his family tree to detonate and bringing disaster to his city. But what if Oedipus and his mother wife Jocasta lived next door? This is the question that represents the play’s central premise. And, as one of literature’s oldest family tragedies is mashed with modern mores of a media saturated world, the answer is perhaps not what you might expect, for the end of Oedipus’ story is, in fact, just the beginning.
The tales from the time of the ancient Greeks were either comedy or tragedy by nature. And if any story (ancient or otherwise) is the epitome of tragedy, it is the complex piece of literature that is Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex”. Yet through some masterful writing, Evans infuses the tale with a black humour that transitions it from horrific to hilarious. There is a rapid tempo and texture to the script that is brought to life by Jason Klarwein’s deft direction of the talented cast through their fragmented bystander recounts of the neighbourhood scandal.
As they play an array of characters (to the extent that they are each have their role listed as chorus 1- 4 in the program), there isn’t a single weak link in the show’s incredible line-up of performers. The result is intensive and confronting, but also additive to watch. Toby Martin is powerful in his every incantation and from the moment he reluctantly introduces himself as 13 ¾ year old Chrysippus, Joe Klocek is engaging, cementing himself as a standout talent to be watched, assuming all array of roles with relative ease. Emily Burton is absolutely authentic when in flighty, vacuous housewife mode, however, it is Ellen Bailey, who is the show-stealer, slipping effortless between several different severe characters with uproarious effect. From a mouthy, narcissistic nail technician to a foul-mouthed, footy-watching boofhead, she uses every nuance of voice and body language to share characterisation that has been honed to a fine art.
Although there is little in way of set, the simple, functional and structured Bille Brown Studio space is used to great effect, with design elements merging to create an ultra-stylised vibrancy in juxtaposition to the text’s gritty subject matter. An immense, colourful graffiti mural at the back of the stage not only cements its subterranean setting, but also provides the canvas onto which graphics are projected to assist in unspoken narration of the story’s key plot points for those unfamiliar with its specifics. The urban atmosphere created by the backdrop serves also to emphasise the story’s modern transcendence.
Certainly, it is its relatability that makes “Odepius Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” so confronting, because as accusation is thrust back on the audience in the final moments, the original play’s enduring theme of the flawed nature of humanity, is highlighted. For here is a work that speaks volumes about how we as a society respond to tragedy and, sombrely, about how life ultimately goes on and moves on.
“Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” is a fast-paced and bold play. It contains high-level coarse language, adult themes and is grotesquely violent, yet, in its at times playful mix of modern and ancient cultural references, it is original and perfectly executed. Indeed, like the doomed Oedipus’ wedding to Jocasta, incest aside, it is quite wonderful, and an excellent addition to the modern theatrical landscape.