Dean Brown, Michael Hough and Michael King in Company D's production of 'Oedipus' at Smock Alley Boys School.

Dean Brown, Michael Hough and Michael King in Company D's production of 'Oedipus' at Smock Alley Boys School.

The difference between Sophocles Oedipus Rex and Seneca’s Oedipus are striking from the get go. In Company D’s production of Seneca’s version of the tragedy we’re introduced to Oedipus as a fearful and indecisive politician, hunkering down within the safety of a bunker as his adopted city of Thebes succumbs to the ravishment of an insatiable plague. Gone is the confident king of Sophocles’ version, whose pride compels him to get to the bottom of the disaster, invoking a deeply felt sense of civic duty in actively pledging himself publicly to discovering its cause. In recent times it may be difficult to imagine, certainly in an Irish context, a leader who so readily takes on the responsibilities owed to his or her citizens, which is why Seneca’s apprehensive Oedipus has potentially more resonance for us than Sophocles’ assured, though tragic, king. However, while it’s the aim of director David Scott’s production to equate an indecisive, tragic character with the failures at the heart of modern governance, the result is somewhat less successful.

The story still follows the familiar trajectory: King Oedipus of Thebes, who has unwittingly killed his father and married his mother, is forced to confront the awful truth which lies at the heart of the plague infesting Thebes’ populace. The production opens with the hurried descent of Oedipus (Jonathon Williamson) and Jocasta (Vivienne Connolly), his queen/wife/mother, from the surface of their doomed kingdom to the security of a Jonothan Williams and Vivienne Connolly in Company D's 'Oedipus'.bunker-type complex at stage level. It’s a bold and evocative start, and, generally speaking, the production makes good use of the Smock Alley Boys School space, utilizing the height of the building to some effect. With actors and audience alike stacked atop each other on the walkways surrounding the stage proper, a classical distance is suggested while a compelling intimacy is still invoked.

However, dutifully following the conceit established by Oedipus and Jocasta’s first entrance, figures of the play are successively introduced into the action by their treading down to stage level from the top floor of the building. This bleeds out any tension previously achieved, as the audience is forced to wait patiently for characters to clamber to stage level. The actors are also occasionally stymied by an adaptation of Seneca’s text that seems to pack as many gratuitous images into as many lines of dialogue as possible, overtaxing a cast which already struggles at times with the play’s formal language. Jonathon Williamson as Oedipus and Michael Hough (Tireseas) are standouts here, though, and while their performances’ absence of modulation is more than likely a result of a lack of direction, they’re still able to convey a suitable tragic gravitas. Unfortunately, Vivienne Connolly’s Jocasta gets no such opportunity. Here Jocasta’s role, unlike in Sophocles version, is relegated to being a set piece rather than an effective counterpoint to Oedipus’s determination to find out the truth. This is ultimately symptomatic of a play and production that values vague imagery over the discipline of a taut and sturdy plot.

Jesse Weaver

  • Review
  • Theatre

Oedipus by Seneca

9 - 20 November, 2010

Produced by Company D
In Smock Alley Boys School

Directed by David Scott

Lighting Design: Pat Burke

Soundscape: David Peachey

With:  Jonathon Williamson, Vivienne Connolly, Ruth Calder-Potts, Michael Hough, Michael King, Dean Brown, Peter Bodie, Justin Keys, Lorna McGowan, Angela Fealy, Delores Mulligan, Noel Bowler, and Daphne Lynders