Preview: Oedipus Tyrannus

Tyran-tastic or just plain tragic?


Content Warning: Self-Harm, Sexual Assault, Death, Incest and Violence. 

Often only known through Freud, Oedipus Tyrannus is a 2400-year-old play about a great king seeking to end corruption. Not directly observing violence, director Ella Joralemon described this play as an “ancient murder mystery”.

 “Instead of following the actual doing of any crimes, the play is really just a series of conversations through which Oedipus discovers who has committed them.”

Expanding more on the inspiration of the choice of the play, she added: “The dialogue-heavy nature of the script, and lack of any stage directions, meant that we could mould the physicality of the play however we wanted. Despite being a tragedy, the script itself is really silly, which also swayed our decision”.

One unique thing about this play is the educational aspect of it, working with charity ‘Classics for All’. Speaking on his inspiration, director Jonathan Wilson added that: “I grew up with very little access to theatre or Classics more generally, and I was under the impression that Greek tragedy was ‘two men standing still on stage and talking to each other for four hours’ (an actual quote from the BBC’s Horrible Histories!)

“Seeing ancient plays in person is an entirely different experience from just reading the text, and we’ve tried to encourage as many school groups to attend as possible”.

What makes your production different to other productions of this play?

Having now understood what made this play unique, I wanted to see if the creative team had done anything different, compared to the hundreds of previous productions. Ella gave us a look into their creative process, explaining that: “we watched a lot (I mean A LOT) of productions online in preparation for this – this even included a version in which all the characters were vegetables… Apart from that veggie filled version, most adaptations fell into two categories: either super traditional – think pillars and togas – or super modern, in which the play inevitably always ends up set in around the 1920s. We’ve wanted our play to sit somewhere timeless.”

A more timeless costume. Photo Credits: Ella Joralemon

But how did they achieve this? Jonathan gave us key insight into their production process: “we wanted the language to be elevated enough to fit the tragic tone of the play, without sounding too dusty. Rather than translating the whole play from scratch, we started with an open-source translation, but often we would go back to the Greek text and try to find a way of phrasing an idea that is more suited to a modern performance.”

What challenges have you faced in preparing a play that is 2400 years old?

But how did they achieve this? Jonathan gave us key insight into their production process: “we wanted the language to be elevated enough to fit the tragic tone of the play, without sounding too dusty. Rather than translating the whole play from scratch, we started with an open-source translation, but often we would go back to the Greek text and try to find a way of phrasing an idea that is more suited to a modern performance.”

What challenges have you faced in preparing a play that is 2400 years old?

Through this we’ve had so much fun working with drumming, physical theatre and some amazing musical composition by Dilan Shant our [Musical Director]! We also have used masks, in keeping with ancient tradition, so our actors have had to compensate for half of their faces being covered through their bodies’ physicality and their voices.”

The original text assumes a lot of knowledge about the myth that a modern audience likely won’t have, since it’s just one staging of a well-known story. We want our production to be accessible, and we aren’t assuming any prior knowledge.”

What has been the highlight of producing this play?

Lead actress and producer Shaira Berg explained how she balanced both roles, and highlighted the rewarding nature of the process:

One of the most rewarding aspects of not only producing but also playing the female lead Jocasta in our production of Oedipus has been witnessing the development of the show from the inside out.

“I have particularly enjoyed diving deep into the gritty details of my character, Jocasta, exploring her motivations and complexities. This in-depth character work has been complemented by my involvement in the broader logistical and production aspects, which has allowed me to see how each piece fits into the larger puzzle.”

A moving scene between Oedipus (Ryan ‘The Keysical’ Keys) and Jocasta (Shaira Berg). Photo Credits: Amelia Ya Wen

Director Ella shared a funny story and elucidated the unique challenges this play faces, sharing: “Working with a big cast has been so fun, but has brought with it the difficulty of actually getting everyone in a room together at the same time!

“Surprisingly, I’ve had a lot of fun with this, as it means I’ve stood in for pretty much every character in the show. In particular, I’ve had to do an Oedipus impression so many times that – with the help of many pre-show fever dreams –  it has now become a bit of a joke that I will be performing a musical entirely through impressions of our leading actor, Ryan Keys (so named The Keysical).”

There are many difficult themes in this play, have you faced any challenges in navigating these?

As the origin of terms ‘Oedipus Complex’ and ‘Jocasta Complex’ – which mean a sexual desire from a son to his mother, and vice versa – this play covers some uncomfortable themes. However, Ella was quick to highlight that many other issues are covered too, saying that: “It’s definitely been odd intimacy coordinating a mother/son relationship of this kind… these rehearsals have often ended in giggles!

“But, on a serious note, we’ve tried really hard to navigate topics such as mental illness and ableism, which arise in the play, with care because when they are brought to the forefront in this production they make for a very hard-hitting final act.”

To finish off, in a sentence, why should readers come to watch your play?

Come watch a man get turned into a human maypole!” – Ella Joralemon

Aristotle was a big fan, and he knew a thing or two about tragedy.” – Jonathan Wilson

So there you have it – Berg’s production of Oedipus Tyrannus looks to be an exciting, funny and interesting take on an amusing yet insightful script.

Oedipus Tyrannus will be showing at the ADC Theatre on the 21st – 25th of May. Tickets can be bought here.