Oedipus (4 stars)

This article is from 2019


credit: Jan Versweyveld

Classic Greek tragedy gets an updating

Much of the dramatic tension in Robert Icke's interpretation of Oedipus is spent on organising the logistics of transforming the Greek tragedy into a contemporary domestic and political drama: between the analysis of the circumstances that allowed a sufficient passage of time for a son to marry his mother, or the political situation that caused a country to remain without a government for years, or the presence of a blind seer in a modern state, Icke focuses on the inexorable logic of events that leads to the moment of revelation. With an impressive ensemble, a spectacular set and the chemistry between Hans Kesting's Oedipus and his mother-wife Jocasta (Marieke Heebink), Oedipus is a powerful reinvention that emphasises the contemporary relevance of its fatalistic story.

Icke is hardly a subtle director: when Oedipus and Jocasta have sex, he claws at her breast or appears to be trying to climb back into her womb, and the dramatic moments – a birth certificate investigation is announced, one son comes out, a father dies – are played for maximum emotional impact. The reassertion of child-abuse as the foundation of the family curse – for too long, directors and critics have pondered the apparent fickle decision of the gods to destroy the offspring of Laius, when the myth is very clear that it was a punishment for his rape of a child - is a bracing addition, and locates the story within contemporary fears.

These details aside, Icke's lack of nuance undermines the show's power – the epilogue is a lazy steal from cinema, portraying the doomed couple before their fall, and playing on easy irony – even as Kesting and Heebink ensure its immediacy and power. Questions of truth and destiny are always present in any version of Sophocles' source script, but Icke lends it a resonance for contemporary political anxieties.

Reviewed as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. Run ended


  • 4 stars

The modern age. A plague has ravaged Thebes. The oracle believes the city is doomed because the murder of King Laius remains unpunished. The King’s successor, Oedipus, wants to investigate the horrific crime himself. But the outcome he discovers is devastating — as much for himself as for his people. Robert Icke’s Oedipus…