Death becomes them: Sydney Festival & Belvoir’s Oedipus Schmoedipus

A disclaimer in the Belvoir foyer warns patrons that “this production contains all the bells and whistles including the use of loud noises, graphic violence and loads and loads of blood.” While early reviews did not quite know what to make of this production, it is safe to say that none of it is ever truly serious. Especially not in the hands of collective theatre group post who “take being silly very seriously.”
Oedipus Schmoedipus is a smorgasbord of over the top deaths and an outrageous amount of stage blood (all within the first ten minutes of the show). There are deaths by gunshot, knives, long-sword, cutthroat razor, throat slitting, and bomb, while various appendages are lopped with relish and groans of barely-disguised enjoyment. After this opening barrage of deaths, the stage is cleaned in a ballet-like effort by the stage management team, and the curtain is pulled back to reveal The Volunteers, post’s (not-so) secret ingredient in their madcap shenanigans. What follows is a forum about death, delivered by Mish Grigor and Zoë Coombs Marr with occasional interjections from the volunteers who follow prompts on screens set in the lighting rig. One carefully chosen-at-random volunteer enters and dies – in this performance, she sits on the ground, coughs once, then lies on the floor, playing dead. “What is that?” asks Coombs Marr. “What is that? What is that?” Her disappointment is only short-lived, as she and Grigor pun and non-sequitur their way around the often-taboo subject of death, dying, carking it, falling off the perch, kicking the bucket, meeting their maker, and various other euphemisms. Underneath the anarchy, the coordinated (and sometimes choreographed) chaos and the uncooperative backdrops, is a poignant and often quite unexpectedly frank discussion of how we all know it’s coming, sooner or later, one way or another, but we have no idea how or when, so we might as well enjoy those presented on stage in the meantime.

If anything, Oedipus Schmoedipus highlights the ridiculous absurdity of stage deaths, and how hard it is to remain dead on stage for a prolonged period of time. To the (lucky?) volunteer’s immense credit, she barely moves so much as a hair for the entire performance, nor does she corpse (a technical term, I assure you) or succumb to the petting and cradling of Coombs Marr and Grigor. As a “a dismembering [and a ] reanimation of the corpse of the canon we once loved,” it is a wake that is as rough and unpolished as a precious stone just pulled from the earth. But like the precious stone, therein lies its charm. It’s a bit like a university revue, though it never really outstays its welcome. Some parts could be tightened, and it could lose ten minutes outright and still would not lose a moment of its hilarity and cleverly disguised insight. It’s not terribly coherent narratively (in fact, there’s no real narrative at all), but whichever way you look at it, its tongue is rather firmly in its cheek, from Zoë Coombs Marr’s knowing smile and elastic-muscled face at the top of the show to the final flash-mob finale.
In many respects it’s quite a perfect show for summer, in that it is irreverent and knows it, plays with it, flaunts it; relishes its licence to be ridiculous. Described by themselves as carrying “drama nerds from way back” who have “a deep irreverence for the institution of theatre and a deep reverence for the magic moment of live performance it houses,” post responded to a challenge by Ralph Myers to stage a classic by “doing all the classics, at once,” and by tackling death simultaneously. The result might not SPEAK IN CAPITALS, nor might it be as elegant and hauntingly eloquent as The Book Thief’s, nor as peachy-keen as The Sandman’s, nor will it be to everyone’s liking, but it is wholly enjoyable and sometimes that’s all that matters.

Theatre playlist: 7. Love The Way You Lie, Eminem, feat. Rihanna

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