Review: Greek

5 star rating
Steven Berkoff's retelling of the Oedipus story gets a gritty yet humorous and enthralling production from Jonathan Moore as part of the Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Opera Festival.
Cast of Greek at the Arcola Theatre

From left: Laura Woods, Richard Morrison, Philippa Boyle, Edmund Danon - photo by Lidia Crisafulli



Closes here: Saturday 18 August 2018

Author:
Libretto by Steven Berkoff from his stage play of the same title, adapted by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Jonathan Moore

Composer:
Mark-Anthony Turnage

Director:
Jonathan Moore

Cast:

Mum - Phillippa Boyle

Eddy - Edmund Danon

Dad - Richard Morrison

Sis/ Wife - Laura Woods


Orchestra - The Kantanti Ensemble:


Viola (leader) - Anna Growns

Cello 1 - Deni Teo

Cello 2 - Carola Krebs

Cello 3 - James Douglas

Double Bass - Clare Larkman

Percussion - Tom Daley

Harp - Aileen Henry

Piano - David Todd

Flute, Alto Flute & Piccolo - Alyson Frazier

Clarinet & Bass Clarinet 1 - Chris Goodman

Clarinet & Bass Clarinet 2 - Nadia Wilson

Oboe & Cor Anglais 1 - Emma Gibbons

Oboe & Cor Anglais 2 - Lavinia Redman

Soprano & Baritone Saxophone - David Zucchi

Horn 1 - Tom Pollock

Horn 2 - Adam Howcroft

Trumpet - Elliot Phelps

Trombone - Dom Hales


Synopsis


Greek is a riotous, contemporary retelling of the Oedipus myth, based on the verse play by Steven Berkoff (East, Decadence).


Mark-Anthony Turnage and Jonathan Moore's groundbreaking and radical work sent shockwaves through the opera world when it premiered in 1988.


The Sunday Times called it "riveting total theatre … a resounding, unanimous triumph".


Background


Now, on the thirtieth anniversary of his original staging, director Jonathan Moore brings his East End masterpiece home, in a brand new production for the Grimeborn Opera Festival.


Live music, performed in English.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Friday 10 August 2018
Review star rating image for 3 stars

Playing as part of the Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Opera Festival, this modern interpretation of the Oedipus story is delivered by a cast of just 4, backed-up by a sizeable and very fine orchestra - The Kantanti Ensemble.


Greek is based on a verse play written by Steven Berkoff around 1979 and first aired at the Half Moon Theatre back in 1980.


The opera version with libretto by the playwright, emerged some 8 years later.


You can watch Steven Berkoff talking about his ideas behind the original verse play here.


The original story derives from the mythical King of Thebes who accidentally fulfilled a prophecy that he would kill his dad and marry his mother.


Not the most pleasant of concepts for an opera or a play, you might think.


But the story aims to demonstrate the flawed nature of humanity as well as the role of the individual in contriving his own fortune.


Brought up-to-date, we find the central character, here called Eddy, living with his family - Mum, Dad and Sis - who spend a considerable amount of time in the local down at heel boozer.


Eddy, though, is obviously looking for something more and ventures out to a wine bar where drinks are served by "a chick that looks fresh-frozen".


But when Dad reveals a prediction by a gypsy fortune teller when Eddy was just a "nipper", his son has to leave home in order to avoid the prophecy being realised.


"Don't forget to write" the family cheerily say to Eddy as they wave goodbye from the balcony as he ventures forth into the big wide world - adding "send us some money" as an afterthought.


What Eddy hasn't been told is that his real parents are not the ones he's just left, and when he argues later with the chef in a cafe about some cheesecake, events take a turn for the worse.


Jonathan Moore's compelling, meticulous and stylish direction bears a multimedia flavour with video projections of 'the plague' on the streets of London packed with police confronting the population.


As we enter the theatre, we're exhorted not to walk over the shiny black stage which looks like it might be made of glass and has strips of fluorescent lighting edging out a kind of frame around the acting area and neatly changing colour to highlight the course of events.


Most of the musicians seem incarcerated behind the back wall, but that doesn't stop The Kantanti Ensemble from delivering a belting performance, that occasionally requires them to do a little more than just play their instruments - like stamping their feet as additional accompaniment to proceedings.


Thankfully sung in English (since my foreign language skills are non-existent) Greek is the kind of accessible opera which proves completely irresistible and totally absorbing.


That's largely due to Steven Berkoff's brilliant storytelling which embodies a considerable dose of wry, somewhat understated, but very deliberate humour - the sort that evokes regular chuckles rather than big belly laughs.


But it also has a significant ring of down-to-earth, gritty reality and modern relevance, in spite of the changing nature of the times and society itself since the original play was written.

Edmund Danon and Laura Woods in Greek at the Arcola Theatre

Edmund Danon and Laura Woods - photo by Lidia Crisafulli


Wonderfully sung and acted here by an outstanding cast led by Edmund Danon as the hapless Eddy, there's plenty of drama sitting alongside Mark-Anthony Turnage's hypnotically edgy score.


The Oedipus story has a tragically melancholic moral that leaves us with a sense that, however hard we try to do the right thing, we can still fall foul of fate or engineer our own downfall.


Despairing though that reminder may be, Greek is nonetheless a terrifically watchable, first-rate and enthralling production.



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