Laugh to keep from crying, as the saying goes – or, conversely, laugh until you cry. Both principles might be applied to this hoot of an adaptation by Spymonkey and Kneehigh’s Emma Rice, who extensively exploit the wafer thin line between tragedy and comedy in their clowning treatment of Sophocles’ classic drama. If you can see the funny side of murder, incest and eye-gouging then you have a head start.
think school-play Ancient Greece crossed with disco glam and a touch of low budget sci-fi
All the basics are there in the story of the chronically unfortunate Oedipus, who inadvertently bumps off his father before marrying his mother, but the narrative framework mainly serves the purpose of facilitating comedy and providing an excuse for some outrageous dressing up courtesy of Lucy Bradridge’s unapologetically camp costumes. Think school-play Ancient Greece crossed with disco glam and a touch of low budget sci-fi. The design, meanwhile, manages to combine Greek columns with 70s psychedelia – a ridiculous blend not unlike that mixed by Spymonkey.
There is still a hint of the tragic beneath all the colour, sequins and slapstick gags, although this derives less from the unsavoury fate of Oedipus and more from the frame that Spymonkey have built around it. In an amusing prologue, the quartet of performers read us an unfavourable review of their work and admit that they might even be – whisper it – middle-aged. Age is thus introduced as a parallel thread, as the actors relate ‘inner monologues’ about their aches, pains and slowly failing bodies, provoking laughter with a bitter, truthful taste.
This concept, however, does not quite reach fruition. The knowing asides may be satisfyingly clever, but their purpose is not fully realised, while the occasionally tedious physical comedy, as admirably enthusiastic as it is, can only stretch so far. Expert clowns they might be, but it feels as though Spymonkey have missed a trick.
*** (3 stars)
Runs until 21st April