Review: Cambridge Greek Play 2019, Oedipus at Colonus

Tyler Ashman 17 October 2019

In our final piece on the Cambridge Greek Play 2019, our intrepid reviewer ventures to Colonus alongside Oedipus.

At the first chirp of the heart monitor, somehow you’ll know you’re in ancient Greece.

Though I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I settled into my seat at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on Wednesday night, I knew I was in for a unique experience. Of course, it’s difficult to express just how unique it is to watch the 2019 Cambridge Greek Play. The story of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, which centers on a former king awaiting his death after committing patricide, sleeping with his mother, and blinding himself, is eerie in and of itself. But presenting that story in its original language, with nothing but surtitles to help its illiterate 21st century audience understand ancient Greek? I could not have imagined a more “Cambridge” way to begin a theatre season.

Image credit: Gabriel Humphreys

Without a doubt, though, director Daniel Goldman has honored the long-standing tradition of the Cambridge Greek Play with this dark, beautiful adaptation. His production is simultaneously timeless and up to date, capturing the visceral intensity of the deathbed while never failing to address the horrors accompanying these painful stories.

More than anything, the production is noteworthy for its exceptional individual performances. Rosy Sida has crafted a fascinating Oedipus, one who walks the fine line between elderly authority and broken frailty. Despite the fact that she remains bound to her hospital bed for most of the show, she still commands the attention of all her compatriots, whether cursing her children with tears and rage or collapsing to the floor in weakness.

Image credit: Gabriel Humphreys

The story does not entirely revolve around Oedipus, however: the rest of the featured performers are wonderful as well. In particular, Sara Hazemi’s Antigone ages from innocent girl to tortured woman with ease and brilliance, while Harry Burke stands strong as the confident, charming Theseus. Vee Tames, Eleanor Booton, and Harry Camp are equally competent and engaging in their featured roles.

Of course, Oedipus at Colonus would not have been half as great without its dedicated Chorus. Whether finding individual moments to shine – Alice Murray’s singing and William Hale’s comic relief come to mind – or singing the haunting incantations composed by Alex Silverman, the seven ensemble members seamlessly worked together to create an aura of mechanical certainty that is both startling and entrancing.

Image credit: Gabriel Humphreys

To top it all off, each and every performer had an impressive grip on the ancient Greek language. Kudos to language coaches Anthony Bowen and James Diggle for helping the actors achieve such a high level of fluency.

Even without the performers, the show was brilliant visually and sonically, thanks to the work of a talented creative team. The set, designed by Jemima Robinson, is striking in its simplicity – a hospital bed set under an exaggerated operating lamp – yet still remains versatile and beautiful. Further, Xavier Velastin’s sound design complements the spooky nature of the production, with perfect variations in the ambient music that fills the whole production.

Image credit: Gabriel Humphreys

All this to say, the Cambridge Greek Play is a must-see performance in Cambridge this weekend. With high production value, incredible performances, and flawless ancient Greek, the production does not fail to startle, challenge, and entrance the viewer from start to finish.

5 stars.