Photo by Johan Persson
Fifteen years ago I was sat in a stuffy classroom pouring over Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, delighted at the fact that we were allowed – and actively encouraged – to read a text filled with murder, self-harm and incest.
The Greek playwrights certainly seemed to relish in the portrayal of extreme sex, violence and gluttony mixed with a heavy helping of satire to wash down the cathartic misery. Spymonkey’s madcap production of Oedipussy, currently showing at Royal & Derngate theatre, is therefore not as far off the mark as would first appear. As the director Emma Rice asks “ever noticed how closely comedy and tragedy sit?”
Turning extreme tragedy into extreme comedy works wonders for the ancient text and I would like to think that author Sophocles would be chuckling to himself in his grave. For those unfamiliar with the story it is a simple tale of prophet-ridden baby is abandoned, baby grows up to be a man, man unwittingly kills his father, man unwittingly marries his mother, man finds out what he has done, man has to face up to blinding consequences.
The Spymonkey theatre group, which specialises in bizarre physical comedy, largely sticks to the plot of Oedipus Rex but allows itself to simultaneously, develop the theme of “the tragedy of aging” thanks to the surreal skills of writer Carl Grose.
But the unquestionable stars of the show are the troupe of four energetic, comedic and physical impressive actors made up of Petra Massey, Stephan Kreiss, Toby Park and Aitor Basauri. The quartet dance, play, sing, climb, roll, jump, joke, scrap and scamper across the stage in all three dimensions. Their talents range from stand up comedy to playing wind instruments, to performing Egyptian dances and singing rock ballads whilst somehow managing to just about stick to the traditional narrative of Oedipus Rex. Dramatic devices include a play-within-in-a-play, multi-dimensional staging and elaborate retro-contemporary-traditional costumes.
As the name of the play implies, the show is a blend of 007 movies (Octopussy) and 1960s/70s sexploitation (Barberella) with the slapstick humour of Carry On and Keaton. It is an almost impossible task to describe, let alone explain, the funny, surreal, distasteful, delightful yet strangely poignant theatrical experience that is Oedipussy.
How on earth do you describe a show where a man wearing futuristic diapers wears a sprayed-white rubbish bin on his head and the crowd interaction involves everyone singing along to the song “Leprosy’s Not Funny”?
Bold, bonkers, brilliant and irreverent all at once Oedipussy cannot fail to make you leave the theatre with a bewildered smile on your contorted face.
Oedipussy is showing now at Royal & Derngate theatre until February 18th. Book you tickets online here or call 01604 624811. Tickets from £13.
Watch a video of the cast discussing the play:
Read other reviews of Oedipussy here: