Without being facetious, that’s basically all you need to know. Because I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a work quite like this, that stood alone, plainly and simply, as something that just needed to be seen and experienced and really doesn’t need a gaggle of critics spelling out whether it was any good or not to get bums on seats.
Still, it can’t be said this review is written with any kind of authority about the work of theatrical giant Berkoff, apart from the fact he has a new, exhilarated convert. And from what could be seen last night, every single moment of this production came from a real, deep love of theatre and its audience, not ego-stroking or pandering to London luvvies. There was something feisty, genuine and captivating about this work that just shone through.
On stage, the audience saw the perfect marriage of director (including his simply beautiful script, part traditional, part modern) and ensemble cast. Among the actors, not only was there no weak link, but everyone excelled. The three main characters of Oedipus (a sparkling Simon Merrells), his wife Jocasta, and her brother Creon, were the only individually defined roles. The rest of the ensemble worked as a Greek Chorus (natch), their tableau-style movements wonderfully evocative, the simple live music by John Chambers a haunting accompaniment that always hit the mark. The set – one long, Last Supper-esque table with a curved, Dali-style landscape behind – again, was austere, yet awe-inspiring.
This Oedipus – a co-production with the Nottingham Playhouse (the two venues worked together on Arthur Miller’s The Price in 2009) – is understated in script and performance and creates an accessible, irresistible work that has the audience enthralled from curtain up. Yet there is a raging confidence under the subtle exterior. It might not be flash, but it is an utterly passionate telling of one of the great stories. People will be talking about this production for a long time to come.
Oedipus is on at the Playhouse until March 12. For more details, see the website. And really, seriously, try not to miss it.