Auckland Arts Festival: The Chorus; Oedipus
Thursday 17th March
Q Theatre Rangatira, Auckland
Reviewed by MARIA JI
The focus in The Chorus; Oedipus is not on how much influence a person has over their life. The characters never doubt the existence of the cruel gods; knotted ropes are used in a stunning visual metaphor to show that Oedipus’s future cannot be escaped. In this striking, sophisticated work of musical theatre based on Sophocles’ ancient Greek play, the question posed is this: in the face of tragedy that you cannot prevent or undo, what do you do next?
The answer Oedipus (the ardent Yoon Ho Nam) arrives at is simple. He gouges out the unseeing eyes that deceived him, and asks his feet to take him onwards and forwards – away, away. “Feet! Where will you lead me now?” he cries. Yet his solution solves very little, for his suffering can’t be escaped by geographical displacement; the audience is made to see it creep up on him and engulf him completely.
We can’t help but feel the suffering, too. The music (performed live on four pianos), choreography, and acting combine to enthrall our senses completely; it is an utterly engaging piece of theatre. The choreography by Eun-Jung Jang is technically demanding, but really brings the world of Oedipus to life. The members of the chorus possess an unbelievable mastery of movement, combining precision with total commitment to character.
Even amongst this flawless cast there are particularly remarkable performances. Opera-trained Inn Bae Pak has a devastating voice that could turn a city into a heap of rubble. Kang Hee Yim’s performance as Jocasta (the mother and wife of Oedipus) brings a depth that is surprising in a character usually defined by her victim status and little else. Yim’s Jocasta is a woman fighting for stability – the boundaries of her values are blurred by the desire to protect the man she loves double-heartedly. “This moment is the only truth,” Jocasta says, cradling Oedipus’ head in her arms.
The work is performed in Korean with English surtitles, and it is astonishing how suited the Korean language is for the performance of Greek theatre. Its syllabic structure means that the words have an inherent flexibility and power in conveying emotions. The various speech levels (which reflect the formality of situations) and honorifics add layers of nuance to the unfolding tragedy that a production in English simply couldn’t replicate.
Inevitably, some of these things are lost in translation, or are simply unable to be translated. I have no doubt that this does not diminish the beauty of this work in the least – as with all great works of art, there are facets that require deeper examining to fully appreciate. And examine it we should, for this is world-class theatre – the highlight of this year’s Auckland Arts Festival.
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