Greek at the Drama Barn

“Greek” is a play that endeavours to show the worst. Stephen Berkoff’s rework of “Oedipus Rex” presents the worst of family, society, gender, hate, love (and its setting: 1980s London). The audience is broiled in this mix for about two hours by a vociferous group of characters played by an able cast (while Stephen Berkoff’s rework of “Oedipus Rex” was already pretty funny, the team didn’t miss an opportunity when it arose to lay more laughs on top). I imagine few will come away without the taste of the sordid atmosphere fizzing in their mouths, and a bit moved by the raw feeling put into this production; but would also be surprised if not muddled by the weighty themes propounded (exclusively in a too often garbled Cockney).

While the ancient Greeks recoiled from the horror of Oedipus cruelly tricked by the fates into murdering his father and having sex with his mother, the modern audience recoils from a pervasive working class “Agro.” Our protagonist Eddy, played by Joe McKenzie, navigates a collapsed and filthy society (dispensing numerous profanities), sifting for some goodness in the misery. He narrates this bastardised myth in an extensive monologue that is true to the Classical style. This combined with more colloquial allusions: “why should I tear my eyes out in Greek style?” – exemplify this modern collision with Greek society that Berkoff’s tribute to the mutable legend of Sophocles attempts to produce.

It’s a spirit sharply recognised in the set design: a Grecian relief of “Oedipus Rex” adorns the rafters, while garbage is heaped along the sides of the set. As astutely is that, it does not make the set’s defining feature; the set’s predominately austere, and thus ideal for a word-heavy play wherein the language requires space to fully assert its power. It also gives the cast space for the best aspect of this production: the seamless and inspired physical theatre and use of set. The previous time I saw DramaSoc do the Thatcherite era (“Road”) blocking was also key to the renderings of turbulent broken lives, as was then Andy Bewley whose substantial figure again made possible some ambitious set ups, such as a truly towering and terrifying sphinx—not to stint credit to its main vivifier Leigh Douglas who powerfully voiced the creature.

His performance as Eddy’s father, always lucid of how inner torment in worn on the body, was the best of the night

Photo by Brittany Borkan Photography
Photo by Brittany Borkan Photography

Bewley’s role, of course, wasn’t all brawn: his performance as Eddy’s father, always lucid of how inner torment in worn on the body, was the best of the night. Together with Golfo Migos’s excellent pipsqueak of a housewife, they gave the play an essential period character. The leading man on the other hand, McKenzie, while pulling off a skilful feat with his intense and lengthy monologues (never awkwardly switching pace, topic, or tone), had a less solid grip on his character—I often found it difficult to be engaged in Eddy’s plight, although not to be won over by McKenzie’s confidence in breaking the fourth wall.

However, the play managed to move once it became more or less certain of what its chaotic vision was about: the tragedy of life in “Greek,” as in “Oedipus,” is that one’s life is not contained within one’s own actions. This was nicely put across by a kitchen apron permanently worn by Migos, as if she was imprinted by domesticity, but sometimes we needed more than a hint. That being said, while this production could have done with more attention paid to the coherency of what was being put forward in regards to the audience, its stupendous realisation of the operatic vividness of Berkoff’s London deserves operatic applause.