Review: Thebes, New Diorama

Let this blood here be the wash of Thebes’ redemption”

The ancient Greek stories of Thebes have proved some of the most enduring, inspiring theatremakers across the years to relate the tales of power-crazed, war-torn tragedy in their own ways and to their own experiences. Here, Gareth Jandrell ramps up the epic quotient by splicing together works by Aeschylus and Sophocles to create his own new play Thebes which spans the entire misbegotten dynasty, and forms the second play in The Faction’s 2014 rep season at the New Diorama.

So we see Oedipus’ crazed descent as the terrible truths uttered by the Oracle unknowingly shape his destiny as a most tragic king and we then move swiftly into the aftermath of his death, the power vacuum that emerges that his two sons and Creon battle to fill. Which in turn unleashes its own trail of chaos in the form of Oedipus’ vengeful daughter Antigone who will stop at nothing to do what she feels is right. All the while, the city of Thebes pulses in the background – bearing witness, making comment, passing judgement.

And it is this element of the ever-present city, a Chorus of sorts, that defines the visceral strength of Rachel Valentine Smith’s production. The company of twelve remain onstage at all times, performers slipping out of the crowd to take on characters and seamlessly sliding back in to rejoin the group as they respond and react to the varying political tyranny around them. A grieving mass, a marauding horde, a righteous audience, a spitting mob, the chattering classes – it’s an intensely vivid piece of physical theatre that cleverly creates sound and vision that lingers long in the mind.

From the ensemble, noteworthy performances do appear. Lachlan McCall’s Oedipus is a cannily uncertain leader, Cary Crankson’s oppressive Creon is studied excellence and Derval Mellett brings a steely-eyed fervour to Antigone. And Christopher Hughes’ amusing take on the unfortunate guard who must relay bad news to Creon is an unexpected shot of light in the unremitting gloom. For in this Thebes as in all others, the corrupting influence of power and over-reaching ambition, and the uncompromising opposition it inspires, proves the downfall of so many.

Smith leaves the detritus of many of these stolen lives hanging about the otherwise bare stage, gradually building into the most appalling testimony as Jocasta’s dress accompanies Oedipus’ bloodied eye-bandage which joins Megareus’ trainers and so on and so forth. But it is the sinuous energy of the ensemble that breathes strange and beautiful life into this most compelling tale of Thebes. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Charlie Ward
Booking until 22nd February

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