by Marley Morris
Berkoff’s tragedy ‘Greek’, based on Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Rex’, thrusts in front of us a vision of a decadent and brutal London. It evokes William Blake’s description of the city in his famous poem, and is almost entirely populated by thugs and whores. Matt Ryan’s production of the play brings this vision to life, with the four actors onstage managing to capture London’s hustle and bustle, its unforgiving callousness, and its bitter social divides, without forgetting the city’s natural charm.
The production begins with the actors jarringly coming into motion and a vivid description of the local “corner pub” by Eddy (James Reid). This immediately sets the scene for the action to come. The actors’ faces are painted a ghostly white, and this together with the faint sound of carnival music creates a terrifying tragicomic tone. Therefore when Eddy’s parents (played by Natasha Kirk and Phillip Aspin) reveal the gypsy’s horrific prediction after recounting an otherwise cheerful trip to the fair, the sudden twist in the tale seems almost inevitable.
But the pace of the play does not slow down from there. Instead we rocket through Eddy’s journey, meeting dozens of bizarre and gruesome caricatures as we go. (In fact, if anything the production moves too quickly; we are barely allowed an opportunity to catch our breath.) The location is endlessly switching: one moment the stage is a London alley, then it transforms into Heathrow airport. All these shifts are made through the movements of the actors – one becomes a complaining customer, another makes the sound of a starting aeroplane. These energetic scene changes could have been more believable, however, if the set had been used as imaginatively as the actors, even if the Berkoffian notion of minimalist scenery is taken into account. As it is, turning a table over onto its side is hardly the most original use of props possible (and begs the question of whether it’s needed at all). It is in the acting that this production really takes shape. Perhaps most memorable is the linguistic battle between Eddy and his actual father, both actors clearly having a lot of fun as they mime each act of violence upon one another. Natasha Kirk’s long monologue as the Oracle is performed excellently, even if it does tend to over egg the pudding. The ensemble pieces, meanwhile, are even more impressive, from the actors’ opening depiction of an archetypal London pub to their staging of a typical dreary day in Eddy’s family home. The emphasis of movement and sound – surely the hallmark of a good Berkoff production – is wonderful. Although the play is now slightly dated, and can seem to be overloaded somewhat with a multitude of convoluted themes, its essence – that is, an atmosphere of cruelty and dissolution – is brought across with full force in this production.