Oedipus Schmoedipus theatre review (Belvoir, Sydney)

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Last Friday evening I was at Carriageworks, for the opening of Christian Boltanski’s major work, a massive installation called Chance. Chance, of course, referring to the capricious, random nature of birth and death. About all that lies in between, when it comes down to it, is memory.
post is a theatrical collective centred on the considerable talents of Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose, who second other talents on a needs-be basis, to bring off their ‘genre-queer’, out-there ventures. The latest is Oedipus Schmoedipus, developed while on a south coast sojourn during which they found themselves up to their eyeballs in great works; plays dating back as far as two millennia. They were on a quest for last remains. Denouements. Demises. Deaths. In their idiosyncratic way, they’d wondered what it would be like if they took as many literary deaths as they could find, cut-and-pasting them such that they had a parade of passings; a surfeit of slaughter; an excess of expiry.
This, obviously, has blackly comic potential and this is where OS begins. Enter into a quintessentially Belvoir, pristine white space (it might’ve been left over from a Simon Stone production) Marr and Grigor. Also in white, they look like angels, staring out at us, benignly. Their calm is unnerving, as well it might be, for, after some time, Marr reaches behind her back to slowly withdraw a handgun. She’s still smiling the smile of the girl on the train you think’s taken a shining to you, but who disappoints by kicking you in the ego and handing you a copy of the twenty-third psalm. She aims and re-aims the gun at various of us, before pointing it at her temple and blowing her brains out. Blood is everywhere. Looking a little put out, but then, presumably, finding no good reason to go on, Grigor places her gun in her mouth. Deaths by strangulation, knife, sword, razored wrist and neck-slashing, poison and even good, old-fashioned natural causes ensue, repeatedly. It’s, at once, funny, graphic, terrible, crass, cringeworthy, tragic and upsetting. This, as in the case of the continual guffaws from the guy seated behind me, is one of the most interesting aspects of the work. Do we laugh because death is funny; ridiculous? Or do we laugh ’cause it’s all we can do, apart from cry. In other words, is our laughter and are our attempts to ridicule the grim reaper, a desperate, last resort?
After this orgy of blood and murderous mayhem, the next ‘scene’ is one of stage managers mopping-up. Literally. It, too, goes on for some minutes to an operatic soundtrack. At first, it’s novel: the lights come up, in a blinding crescendo and we, the audience, uncertain whether we’re in or out of the play remain more-or-less speechless. We’re left in suspended animation, somewhere between amusement and bemusement; slightly discomfited and, as time wears, or grinds, on, increasingly bored and agitated. Well, me, anyway.
Perhaps there’s an idea here. These could be morgue workers, cleaning-up after a particularly messy autopsy; desensitised to blood, flesh and bone, which is divested of all its horror when the person to whom these corporeal contents belong is unknown to us. Suddenly, death becomes what it essentially is: everyday; mundane; banal; even boring. This sits well with post‘s objective: they’ve sought to interrogate death itself; not mourning, loss, or sadness.
For every performance, volunteers have been recruited as amateur, unpaid actors. Once the floor has been rendered safe and white once more, the volunteers are introduced, sometimes appearing alone, or in small groups; at others, forming a kind of Greek, or perhaps geek, chorus, reciting quotes from great whites (famous male writers of the classical canon). Like the previous scene, it’s novel, at first, but the needle begins to oscillate, vacillate, and tend away from the colours of comedy towards the grey end of the scale, marked tedium. One is, of course, struck by the diversity of characters that populate the stage; their visages, mannerisms and approaches are an entertainment in themselves, but only up to a point. It goes on too long, only really broken by diatribe from Marr and Grigor. Clever though it is and commanding as their comic gifts are, it becomes increasingly random and tenuous. Sure, Python survived and prospered along similar lines, but they went harder, further and faster. Take for example, the “it’s only a flesh wound” defiance of The Black Knight. (I only wish I didn’t have to cite great white males as exemplars.)
From this point on the plot (not that there really is one) was lost and the production meandered through a series of mercurial conceits of little point or value and commensurately modest pageantry.
post does, if nothing else, effectively establish dead white males, no matter how lofty their literary pretensions and propensities, have bugger all insight to offer us on the nature or meaning of death. No wonder they’re extinct. In short, OS runs a little off the rails, but you’ll enjoy part of the ride. And some provocative questions are raised. Inconsistency is the price we’ll pay if we’re to afford greatly talented people the room to experiment. That doesn’t seem too high, to me. Though I’m not sure this outing has earned its place upstairs, at Belvoir.
That’s what we thought. Read what the other critics said.
[box]Oedipus Schmoedipus is at the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir until 2 February. Tickets are available at
Featured image by Ellis Parrinder[/box]

4 responses to “Oedipus Schmoedipus theatre review (Belvoir, Sydney)

  1. Hmmn. Sounds like you could give this a miss and read Bolano’s 2666 instead, if you’re looking “300 corpse-soaked pages” with something very profound to say.

  2. i tend to run screaming when i read the word “interrogate” in a review (“they’ve sought to interrogate death itself”)… in what way, lloyd? they’ve sought to portray it, perhaps, but INTERROGATE it? foolishly, i read on to encounter “provocative questions are raised”. goodness, this is theatre, after all. but perhaps it is incumbent on the reviewer to suggest what those questions might be, let alone the answers, rather than just state that they exist…

  3. This is simply the worst play I have ever seen. As my wife said to the lady filming the play on the way out ” you’re wasting your time ,honey ”
    Remarkably no real insights, no real humour, no real pathos, just nothing. Plenty of red sauce for the first 15 mins which quickly became tedious or repulsive depending on your view. Then nothing .. volunteers pretending to dance ( what is the point of dance training if people pay to see volunteers gyrating on stage ? ).
    And finally for those of us who were keen to be released a short play maybe one hour ten minutes. I see from the reviews although mostly giving it a low rating some found some merit in it … Are critics unable to speak the truth this is rubbish.

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