It was quite by chance that Monique and I ended up getting tickets for The Tree of Oedipus. Monique’s co-teacher had heard about the second annual Daegu theatre festival and suggested we attend; she even helped us buy the tickets! We had no idea what to expect but I can safely say we were blown away by one of the most magnificent performances I have ever seen.
The play is based on Sophocles’ three Theban plays, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. It was performed in Greek (which was a treat in itself) with English and Korean subtitles. The show ran for just over 2 hours. During this time the director skillfully played with timing to build up powerful climaxes and break them using simple comic relief; which came as a sigh of relief to the tension on stage and in the audience. The actors stepped into multiple roles with the simplest of costume changes but with complete transformation of self to create distinct personalities which brought to life Sophocles’ tragic characters. Oedipus, Konstantinos Bimpis, and Jokasta, Myrto Gkoni, need a special mention here. Their fall from grace left you sympathetic to the characters and they showed the tragic irony with finesse. They returned as the two guards of Polynices’ body and became bumbling clowns that were polar opposites of their regal roles. They made these transitions multiple times and never once lost their character.
The set was relatively simple; a stage full of sand, four small rostra and hanging fabric used for acrobatics and wonderful symbolism, which included multiple suicides, communicating with the gods, a fight to the death between brothers and Oedipus’ ascension. The sand was used on the literal and metaphorical levels, at times to show the dirt of the royal family and later as the sand that Atigone uses to try bury her brother.
The music possibly made half of the play. Kanstantinos Gakis played piano, guitar and several other small instruments and Kostas Lolos played the violin. From crescendos to complete silence the music enhanced the flow of the action for the duration of the play. It was well-timed and if listened to on it’s own you would still probably be able to see the entire story arc.
The role of the chorus was broken up amongst the cast and was sung or narrated making the piece feel modern without ever taking away from the classical nature of it. Of all the great moments one scene was particularly moving, the fight between Polynices and Eteocles. As these two brothers prepare to fight to the death the play changes between past and present, showing the brothers as young children learning to fight, then actually fighting, back to children and finally dying as adults. A technique that could possibly become a little kitsch or stilted was done so smoothly and with the actors sliding effortlessly and believably between their adult and younger selves. A testament to great acting as well as the exquisite crafting by the director.
I love to nitpick theatre but I cannot think of one thing I would have changed in this play. It was truly a work of art and I would watch it again in a heartbeat! If you ever get a chance to see it I would highly recommend it and I am going to keep my eyes open for this company and director in future.
Names and pictures from – http://artcenter.daegu.go.kr/content.html?md=0037&mode=view&seq=2482