Review – Oedipussy

Oct 10 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩   Tragically funny

A well-drilled outfit. Aitor Basauri. Photo © Johan Persson

Aitor Basauri. A well-drilled outfit. Photo © Johan Persson

Traverse Theatre
Wed 9 – Sat 12 October
Review by Hugh Simpson

Energetic and anarchic, Spymonkey’s take on Sophocles provides its quota of laughs in what it is ultimately a somewhat uneven evening at the Traverse until Saturday.

Even though it is presented as a spoof, the story stays close to the original Greek myth, and anyone coming new to the story would leave with a good working knowledge of the story of how Oedipus unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother.

The production, in association with Royal and Derngate Northampton, is billed as ‘Barbarella, Bowie and a little bit of Bond’ which – a cruelly accurate parody of Bowie aside – is somewhat misleading. Even before a throwaway reference to the show confirms it, the presiding spirit here seems much closer to 70s kids’ TV show Play Away, albeit a version overflowing with sex references.

The warning outside the auditorium that the production ‘contains incest, violence, mutilation, strobes, nudity and chorus work’ gives a much better idea of the humour here – simultaneously arch and scatological, unashamedly silly and usually not as shocking as it wants to be.

The performers are extremely accomplished – Stephan Kreiss plays Oedipus as ‘a 51-year-old German man playing a 17-year-old Greek boy,’ combining wounded middle-aged dignity and youthful exuberance excellently. Petra Massey and Toby Park both switch from adroit physical comedy to uptight Englishness brilliantly, and Aitor Basauri is a simply superb physical comedian, every movement and gesture timed to perfection.

The script (by Carl Grose and the company) provides a great deal to laugh at, and the occasional hints at pantomime only reinforce the fact that the energetic, apparently effortless slapstick on show here is at the level your average panto should aspire to but rarely reaches. Overall, Emma Rice’s direction is varied, pacy, and shows the company’s skills off to good effect.

Trapped by forces beyond their control
Oedipussy stays close to the original Greek myth. Photo © Johan Persson

Oedipussy stays close to the original Greek myth. Photo © Johan Persson

At times, however, the desire to be ‘adult’ means that interest flags – the choreographed dry-humping quickly palls and the attempted singalong ‘Leprosy’s Not Funny,’ being a statement of the obvious combined with decades-old, wildly inaccurate ‘jokes’, is a major miscalculation. This is all the more frustrating since it accompanies a tremendous display of puppetry and scenery-bashing by Basauri.

The rest of the music, by Park and Neil Filby, is much more successful, cleverly mixing humour and real pathos. This is when the show is most successful – when it combines the slapstick with something more serious.

The moments when the cast step out of character to bemoan their respective situations and express their dissatisfaction with their careers are perhaps the best thing about the whole evening. The way the performers seem to be trapped by forces beyond their control makes a pleasing parallel with the original story’s message that mere mortals cannot escape their fate at the hands of the gods.

The ending is all the more effective for being played relatively straight and, aided by a couple of simple and effective theatrical effects, is more affecting than many more ostensibly serious productions.

However, the self-referential nature of the enterprise can be taken a little too far. Beginning the show by mentioning a previous bad review by a certain extremely distinguished Scottish critic puts them on dangerous ground. Essentially, they are drawing attention to the fact that in the past they have been criticised for stretching a student revue sketch over two hours – which is fundamentally what they do here.

Having a criticism anticipated, of course, is no reason not to raise it, and at times the suspicion arises that the excellent clowning, Lucy Bradridge’s tremendous costumes and Michael Vale’s ingenious set might all have been put to better use.

Running time 2 hrs 5 mins
Run ends Sat 12 October 2013. Daily 7.30 pm
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street EH1 2ED
Tickets from


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