Review: Greek

Laura Pugh 13 November 2013

7pm, Tue 12 to Sat 16 Nov 2013, Corpus Playroom

‘Greek’ presents the tale of Oedipus, the man who killed his father and married his own mother, but probably not the story as you know it. Steven Berkoff’s adaptation takes Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and sets it in crude, smutty ‘waste-lands’ of contemporary London. It retains the use of a chorus and themes of a rapidly spreading plague and sordid sexuality but forget masked actors delivering grandiose speeches in ancient Greek, this play sets itself the challenge of fitting as many usages of the words ‘fuck’, ‘cock’ and ‘spunk’ into one hour as it possibly can. Edgy and confrontational, the play brings together stylised physical theatre with a register that combines urban street slang with elevated poetry. It’s an adaptation that constantly surprises, with a particularly shocking, thought-provoking twist at the end.

The cast of freshers gave a convincing performance on the whole. The physical theatre so essential to the production was well-rehearsed and it showed. Their actions were tight, they kept up the intensity of the performance throughout and worked together well. There were a noticeable number of fluffed lines but for the first night of a play driven by almost non-stop narration this was understandable. Although some scenes worked better than others, all the direction given to the chorus was performed with conviction, from the expected physical embodiment of sets to especially vocal sex scenes – which I think it’s safe to say definitely did engage the audience, judging by the fact that half of my row stood up at that point to improve their view!

Lack of a cast list prevents mention of individual actors by name. Nevertheless, certain performances deserve particular comment. The role of Oedipus will always be a challenge to any actor and Berkoff’s incredibly dense script adds to the task. Though occasionally a little too quiet to be heard clearly, the title role was delivered with sustained charisma. The final scene is captivating and credit must go to both Oedipus and his wife/mother Jocasta for the emotional intensity they produce.

Polybus, the adoptive father of Oedipus, stood out among the cast. His impressive skill in swapping and changing from one mood to another, combined with some very good timing of lines made for an entertaining character and his performance was engaging throughout. His final few speeches had the audience hanging on to every word – definitely a talented actor to watch out for.

As a bold, unusual adaptation of a Greek tragedy this could be one that divides audiences. If you would like to watch a Greek play with a traditional script and staging, this isn’t the show for you. I attended with a friend who was found out exactly this, but then she has a self-confessed dislike for more modern, ‘arty’ adaptations. I found it both interesting and entertaining. The performance improved as the actors found their feet and I predict that the show will continue to develop throughout its run, as the cast gain in confidence and experience on a Cambridge stage.