Oedipus Rex, home to the original mummy’s boy and influence to Sigmund Freud, is the notorious Greek tragedy by Sophocles. It follows the ill-fated Oedipus, destined to murder his father and marry his mother. An ambitious adaptation of the classic is coming to The Byre on the 11th and 12th of February. I spoke to director Gabriele Uboldi to find out more.
Taking a Classic and adapting it for modern day struck me as a daunting task but one that would open up many exciting possibilities. Gabriele explained the inspiration behind his work: “Two years ago, I worked on an adaptation of Euripides’ Bacchae and started exploring the potential of communicating to contemporary audiences through ancient texts. This show used meta-theatrical conventions to try and understand whether it is possible to adapt Greek tragedy at all. Since then, I have worked on a couple of prose adaptations of Oedipus Rex, including a short novel. I think there’s something so archetypal about that story, that one cannot avoid referring to it in some way when telling any story.”
I asked if there was anything in particular, about the story of Oedipus, that made it ripe for transposing into our current world. For Gabriele, this comes down to the Oedipus’ inability to escape the situation. “Oedipus as a prisoner of his own story, a character that knows he’s acting according to a script. This theme is incredibly contemporary if we apply this idea to politics and social change.” He expanded on this. “During several discussions with the cast and crew, we spoke about how a social actor may feel like in today’s world. I think many people in our generation feel like they live in a world so wide and complex that change seems impossible to reach. Think about an issue such as climate change. Everyone seems to have a different idea on what exactly one should do, and even if a lot of weight is put on the individual’s shoulder, there are still deeply rooted systemic issues that the individual cannot solve and one can feel very disempowered as a result.” It is clear that Gabriele is engaged with questions of agency, and the frustration that the apparent lack of it can generate. “Despite his best intentions, Oedipus ends up caught up in things and is revealed to be the very person that created the problem in the first place.”
However, the show is not completely fatalistic, the director wants to leave the audience questioning how we act. Gabriele says “We leave this question open — can Oedipus’ story teach us anything about how one should try and change things?”
Sound and video will play a large role in the show to help capture Oedipus’ descent into madness by “making every voice inside Oedipus’ head a reality on stage.” Gabriele noted that the use of sound and video are one of the defining directorial choices he has made for his adaptation and added that “our videographer Finn and our composer Annabel have done such an amazing job and I’m so excited to include their work in the show.”
Oedipus Rex is a Mermaids production and is also supported by the School of Classics and the Centre for the Public Understanding of Greek and Roman Drama (CPUGRD). As part of this partnership, a free talk has been organised to discuss the themes of the adaptation and the relation to the original text. Gabriele said that “we’re hoping to get our audiences to join us — either after the first performance, or as preparation for the second.”
From speaking to Gabriele, it is clear to see the hard work that has gone into bringing an experimental twist on the traditional to a St Andrews audience. To close I asked if there is anything he would like us to know before the curtains go up. “This is not Greek tragedy as you might expect it. The original text is just the starting point to explore the possibilities of the immortal themes featured in the play. This is Greek tragedy 2.0 — contemporary, challenging, experimental, and sexy!”