tue 23/07/2024

Greek, Music Theatre Wales, Linbury Studio Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Greek, Music Theatre Wales, Linbury Studio Theatre

Greek, Music Theatre Wales, Linbury Studio Theatre

A bloody good night at the opera

Complex Oedipus: Marcus Farnsworth and the rest of the cast turn tragedy on its headClive Barda

“Fancy my mum? I’d rather go down on Hitler.” When the verbal violence of Steven Berkoff meets Mark-Anthony Turnage’s musical iconoclasm, the result is unlike any Oedipus story you’ve ever heard. Well, except for the shagging his mum bit. That’s still much the same. Since its premiere in 1988, Greek has become something of a contemporary classic, and has proved again and again that it really deserves its place in both the repertoire and the opera house.

Reviving their award-winning 2011 production, Music Theatre Wales have returned to remind us just how good the piece is, and what a star they have in leading-man Marcus Farnsworth.

Trading Thebes for the East End, Berkoff reworks the myth for the London of the 1980s – all riots, racism and social disaffection. Oedipus becomes Eddy (Farnsworth, pictured below), a son who leaves the family home to better himself, only to end up murdering a café owner in a row over cheesecake and marrying his widow (as you do).

Farnsworth spun lines of implausible beauty out of Turnage’s soft-centred score

Mirroring the pacy urgency of the libretto, Turnage’s score slips from speech to song with an ease that is anything but easy to achieve. Perhaps it’s the vernacular muscularity of the composer’s melodies, which can summon drunken football chants as vividly as moments of declamatory passion; or perhaps it’s the unobtrusive continuity of the orchestral score which takes quite its own path, sometimes meeting up with the voices, sometimes diverging entirely. Thick with the bright tones of trumpet, saxophone and harp, the orchestra repeatedly bullies the voices, cuffing them and shouting them down. The voices in turn are made ugly in the battle, just as the lives of Turnage’s characters are made ugly by their struggle against Fate.

All of which only makes Farnsworth’s legato lyricism more striking. Though apparently suffering from illness on opening night, he spun lines of implausible beauty out of Turnage’s soft-centred score, syncopating them with percussive speech-song and some ferocious straight acting. His Eddy has a nice line in cheeky chappie, likely lad, and his swaggering warmth is a large part of what makes this tragedy cut so deep.

Director Michael McCarthy keeps it simple and playful, carrying across some of the alienation effects from Turnage’s score into a DIY staging that squeezes blood straight from the ketchup bottle. His cast are game for anything, gyrating around microphone as a multi-voiced sphinx, engaging in a vigorous (and ingenious choreographed fight-scene) and bringing these cartoon-grotesque characters to grinning life. Sarah Silver is touchingly awful as Eddy’s mum, brightest of all the figures that surround him. Louise Winter sings a mean seduction scene, and her extraordinary ballad bemoaning the death of an abusive husband is one of Turnage’s most inspired gems.

The whole score is alive with cruel invention, whether in harmonic or textural vitriol that is the musical echo of Tony Harrison’s “V” (a chorus of stamping boots and riots shields is somehow more than a gimmick) or in the careful cadence of speech-sung rhythms and phrases that at once recall and distort the familiar shapes of conversation. The libretto too, bending to the inevitable forces around it, changes from cockney to altogether more lofty language as Eddy moves closer to his classical doom.

Greek is at once a mythic tragedy and a neat contemporary subversion, a parable and a barnstorming tale. In Music Theatre Wales’s production it’s also a hit. Just don’t sit too close to the stage, because it’ll hurt in all the wrong ways.

The whole score is alive with cruel invention


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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