Review: The Chorus; Oedipus, Auckland Arts Theatre

By Janet McAllister

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The Chorus; Oedipus at the Q Theatre for the Auckland Arts Festival. Photo / Supplied
The Chorus; Oedipus at the Q Theatre for the Auckland Arts Festival. Photo / Supplied

Sixteen figures in flowing cream reclaim the King of Thebes from Freud in this melodic contemporary opera. This is a straight retelling of the original Oedipus tragedy exquisitely presented with swirling choreography, spare imagery and wonderful music.

Playwright Areum Han restores melodramatic plot points to the one-sentence, two-act nutshell we all know. It's an impossible whodunit: we already know who killed his father and married his mother; here, we find out how it happens and how the truth outs. Along the way there's blindness, baby abandonment, frenzied oracles and a rude charioteer. Those ancient Greeks, eh!

Thanks to Korea's LG Arts Center and Juk-Dal theatre company, Oedipus and his Queen Jocasta appear once more in all their shaking, shocked histrionic glory. (Although I'm not sure I believed in their passion; it was as if showing incestuous desire was considered too embarrassing.)

Apart from some superfluous bits and pieces hanging from the ceiling, the circular wooden set is nicely judged, as is the production's muted palette. The sparseness means focus is always on the key attractions: the music and the fluid ensemble movement.

Chorus leader Inn Bae Pak has an especially rich, commanding baritone voice while Uzong Choe's rippling multi-piano compositions are somehow expertly played without any obvious conducting.

The chorus work is a fascinating guide to group typology; from never-touching, uniformly repetitive individuals they become an interweaving flock of wheeling birds whose different trajectories create a united Hitchcockian threat, and then a tightly formed horse carriage.

The chorus disperses and coalesces on a dime.

There are few thematic complexities - Oedipus' many clubfoot walks in the desert are a metaphor for life - but the lyrics (shown as surtitles) are happily ambivalent about destiny: "Decisions and choices are the inevitable fate of humankind."

There's one joke: "names are the first curse parents give their offspring". Ignorance is indeed bliss for Oedipus, and this is a beautiful, physical, musical paean to the horror of self-knowledge.

Auckland Arts Festival review

What: The Chorus; Oedipus

Where & when: Rangatira, Q Theatre; to Sunday 20th of March

Buy tickets now!

- NZ Herald

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