"Fabulous retelling of Oedipus story"
by Anna Marks for remotegoat on 10/05/19

Death and dissection, plague and pestilence, prophecies and puzzles – the origins of the Oedipus story are buried in the mists of time past. Resurrected by Sophocles some two and a half thousand years ago (in another award-winning show, reviews not readily available as we’re talking Ancient Greece) and now, after numerous incarnations and adaptations, brought sensationally to life again by the fabulous Four of Swords theatre company.

And fabulous is what they are as well as what they do. This crew know how to tell a story. Strands of the Oedipus tale have made it into modern mythology, aided and abetted by one of the twentieth century’s greatest spin doctors, Sigmund Freud. We all think we know something of the murderous and lustful youth who killed his father and married his mother. But do we?

Four of Swords retelling of Oedipus is mind-blowing and takes us out of our cushioned comfort zones. With this company, you get the anticipation, the experience and then the reflection. The venue for the show – Beer Quarry Caves – is Devon’s nearest thing to a subterranean labyrinth. As the audience progresses down the stony track, leaving sunlight and birdsong behind, an iciness suffuses the brain and it gets darker, darker … anything could happen.

Philip Kingslan John’s treatment of Oedipus is dreamy - cleverly constructed, stuffed with improbability and fantasy, yet totally accessible and completely compelling. Humanity and human interests play out against the context of the divine and the demonic. The fates, the gods and the otherworldly guardians are firmly in charge and benevolence is not their priority.

The star of the show is Sarah White’s Sphinx, riddler extraordinaire and gatekeeper of Thebes. With energy, elasticity and a vampirish bloodlust the Sphinx fences with the would be king, Oedipus, who believes he chalks up a victory. Dan Ball plays the hapless Oedipus and does a great job demonstrating effects of abuse, psychological manipulation and blindness to his own power cravings. It was a struggle to find anything admirable in this character and so to understand his appeal to the queen, Jocasta, her brother Cadmus and the population of Thebes. The steely Jocasta and sensible Cadmus were nicely drawn by Sasha Herriman, woman with the amazing voice and spiky shoulder pads, and Miall Yates, lynch pin and straight man.

In Greek drama and also in Four of Swords productions, the chorus is fundamental. This crew have it down to a fine art and it is super effective. They provide music and movement, commentary, context and colour. The chorus guide the audience through the action and, literally and fortunately, through the underground maze of the caves. This Oedipus is a story of illusion and delusion. The actors, working as a group, draw the audience into their reality. We become participants in the story. Despite the chill of the caves seeding icicles into our bones and the ground water seeping into our boots, we are hooked, we are in Thebes.

This is immersive theatre and it’s a total immersion. We are engrossed and entranced from the moment the actors arrive to set the scene - above ground where the audience are drinking tea, munching cake and donning hard hats - to the final stomach-churning gruesomeness in the subterranean chambers.

This Oedipus is a banquet for the brain and the senses – wonderful story telling, great acting, beautiful music, visually spectacular. Don’t miss it.

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