Oedipus Rex: Reviewed

Graphics: Britton Struthers

When I first heard of the opportunity to review Mermaids’ recent production of Oedipus Rex, I jumped at the chance. We had just read the iconic Greek tragedy in second-year English, so this modernization seemed, given the circumstances, too good to miss. What I found was a spiralized, dystopian rendering of the play, one whose bleak, monochromatic set and multimedia approach played out like a Black Mirror episode in the flesh.

This production, written and directed by Gabriele Uboldi and produced by Chloe Ashley, was nothing if not complex. Even as someone familiar with the plot, there were parts of it I found difficult to follow. Uboldi’s fresh approach to the tragedy was constructed as a sort of descent into madness, but often that madness obscured points of plot. The script, however, was very well-written, particularly the monologues given to a number of characters. Additionally, the technical elements – voiceovers, videography by Finn Antrobus, original music by Annabel Steele, live DJ-ing by Zoe Ruki, and much more – all felt well-incorporated, a difficult achievement when so many things are fighting for the audience’s attention.

One aspect that felt a little flat to me was the choreography, which was well-staged by Sarah Julia Greenberg but not always well-executed. There was a disparity in ability across the cast that revealed itself in the larger group numbers, to the point that it distracted from the seriousness of the content. Perhaps it could have been left out altogether in order for the play to retain a more ruminative note.

On the other hand, many of the production’s gambles paid off. The inventive element of multiple Oedipus’s (Isabelle Cory, Charles Vivian, Miriam Woods, Martin Caforio) really demonstrated the breadth of these actors’ abilities, as they moved in and out of this demanding role fluidly and without breaking tempo. But perhaps my favorite aspect of Uboldi’s rewrite was the way in which he handled Jocasta (Martina Sardelli). Deepened far beyond Sophocles’ original conception of her, Jocasta featured nearly as prominently as Oedipus – and rightly so, as only she suffers on the level Oedipus does. Sardelli’s performance strengthened that multifaceted depth, as she flaunted and raged even while subtly revealing a profound vulnerability in her character.

Overall, Uboldi has constructed a story that interweaves seamlessly through and upon itself, so full of careful details and structured levels that I almost feel like I need to see it again to truly comprehend and appreciate it. It is a testament to Western civilization that I can sit in a local theater in a small seaside town in Scotland and watch my fellow students reinterpret a tragic story of human feeling that has endured for thousands of years and is still able to captivate modern audiences. Certainly we have come a long way since Sophocles’ time, but at our emotional core and in our personal and political relationships to each other, we have, Oedipus Rex reveals, remained the same.

4/5 Owlies

Chicago: Reviewed

Apparently, this entire Just So production was put together in just six weeks. It’s absolutely incredible that they were able to do so much in so little time: the music numbers are numerous, the set pieces are large, and the choreography is elaborate and physically demanding. To pull off even a halfway decent version of this musical in that amount of time would be tricky. Considering what a great job this team did, it’s easy to see that this was a labour of love.

There were certainly some hiccups due to the accelerated timeline. The music at the opening of the show was of questionable quality; the instrumentals improved greatly after the first five minutes, and remained largely on point throughout the rest of the evening, but the show did not start with its best foot forward. There were also a few technical glitches throughout the show — most noticeably at intermission, when the curtain rose and fell several times before finally deciding to close. There were also a few moments when actors’ microphones did not turn on until a few lines into their songs. The actors, admirably, never missed a beat in their acting and singing when their mics were on the fritz.

The set design was relatively simple, but clever: the musicians sat at the back of the stage with a platform on each side for actors to dance on. For the “Cell Block Tango” number, two large movable platforms with tall bars were brought onstage for the actors to dance with. It all worked perfectly for the purposes of the different scenes. My personal favourite stage item, however, was the big “Chicago” sign hanging over the stage; for most of the musical it acted as a backdrop, but in the “Roxie” number it flashed for emphasis every time Catriona Ferguson (Roxie) sang “Roxie!”, adding a great extra touch to an already great performance.

The costumes were typical of Chicago, with most of the women dressed very scantily (lots of fishnet tights). I loved the touch in “We Both Reached for the Gun” where the reporters were played by the actors who had just played the “murderesses” — they wore the same outfits but with large blazers over the top.

The choreography was, on the whole, excellent. Choreographer Caroline Gant did a particularly great job with “Razzle Dazzle”, filling the stage with sequined dancers as Coggin Galbreath’s slimy Billy Flynn showed Ferguson’s Roxie what a circus the justice system really was. The slinkier dance numbers suffered a bit, however, as some of the actors’ sashaying felt coached to the point of being mechanical. Both Ferguson and Catriona Kadirkamanathan (Velma) especially seemed to suffer from this, which is understandable considering how much they must have had to rehearse in a such a short time.

While they put a lot of energy into the big dance numbers, I must admit that my own favourite songs were the quieter, more contemplative ones. Elliot Seth Faber (Amos)’s rendition of “Mr. Cellophane” was a sobering scene, his raw and honest emotion contrasting starkly with Ferguson’s gleeful, selfish “Me and My Baby” right before. Kadirkamanathan shone in many of the bigger numbers (and made me laugh in “I Can’t Do It Alone”) but dazzled alongside Ella-Rose Nevill (Mama Morton) when they slowed down for their dancing-light, irony-heavy duet, “Class.”

In spite of its issues, this production of Chicago was a strong one. The actors took a challenging piece and really made it their own, and the final result was exciting and nauseating in all the right ways.

4/5 Owlies