The Whingers love their mothers of course, just not in that way.
Oedipal themes then; whatever made director Jonathan Kent* think of Fiennes for this? Was he having a larf? Not of course that we’re implying anything Oedipal in Fiennes relationship with Francesca Annis but they were famously coupled after starring together when she played Gertrude to Fiennes’ Hamlet.
Mind you it’s not a bad idea. Phil may also soon be squiring older women (yes, imagine how old they would have to be) round town himself having only today received notification that his application to join the charming employment agency had been successful (Phil didn’t actually apply of course, but realises this was obviously Andrew’s sick idea of a joke -which he strenuously denies).It’s all very reminiscent of Colin Farrell and Dame Eileen Atkins.
Anyway, incest aside, it felt like the old days at the National last night with a proper starry cast. On top of Fiennes (so to speak) was Clare Higgins as Jocasta (plot spoiler coming) his mother/wife, Alan Howard and Jasper Britton.
Poor old Oedipus. Before his birth it was prophesied he would kill his father and marry his mother so he didn’t stand much of a chance really. Imagine him as one of the less troubled guests on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
But it got worse. As an infant Oedipus has his feet tied together, pierced with a stake and taken away to be killed. (Oedipus means lame or swollen foot – now there’s something the Whingers didn’t know).
Kent has decided to stage it in modern dress, which seems incongruous at times when they start banging on about, Apollo, Zeus, the Oracle and the Sphinx. The Whingers couldn’t find any particular contemporary relevance apart from lots of talk about “saving the city” (Thebes in this case, not the London’s banking centre) so perhaps Kent (who has presumably been planning this long before financial meltdown) had been consulting an Oracle, or is a bit of one himself.
Alan Howard all but steals the show in his all-too-brief scene as Teiresias despite, like Andrew, dribbling profusely and looking like he shared the same stylist – wearing socks with sandals and a suit that looked as if it had been fashioned out of Tracey Emin‘s bedsheets.
Oedipus unfolds a bit like a detective story as he tries to unravel “whodunnit to Laius” but as the history began to unravel both Whingers were struck by the impression that Oedipus and Jocasta are just a little bit slow on the uptake. As Hercule Poirot would have said, let’s look at the evidence: Jocasta knew she had her son’s feet bound and staked, Oedipus walks with a limp (and presumably Jocasta has seen his feet in bed, possibly very close up if she’s anything like British royalty). Add to that the fact that Oedipus is constantly referring to the prophesy that he would kill his father, that Laius (his father) cast out his son after a prophesy that he would be killed by his son. And that Oedipus recalls a time when he was told that he was adopted.
Phil wasn’t completely convinced by Fiennes, even feeling there was a touch of Rigsby about him at times (there’s a Leonard Rossiter theme emerging in Fiennes’ work) and his piercing howl (when the penny finally dropped) made Phil feel he was watching someone who was trying just a little too hard.
Andrew had fewer reservations (he preferred Mr Fiennes’ Leonard Rossiter moments to his Boris Karloff moments anyway) and enjoyed it immensely although he was unable to stop thinking about his cat, Eydie (left, named after Eydie Gormé, of course). Eydie is often hilariously referred to at home as “EydiePuss”. So, any time anyone said “Oedipus” an image of his lovely cat would flash across his mind which would then naturally begin to drift.
There’s an excellent set by Paul Brown which revolves even more slowly than the one in Fram. The chorus reminded the Whingers of a Welsh male voice choir which is not normally their cup of tea but they thought the idea of “Oedipus – The Eisteddfod!” was imaginative, if nothing else.
Frank McGuinness‘ “raw” new version is spiky and dramatic and contains the odd mot juste – “nine sheets to the wind” and there is some highly agreeable gore. Only the appearance of Oedipus’s inadequately traumatised children failed to work any magic at all.
So overall the production sneaked onto the Bagnold Barometer rather than the Fram Scale meaning that it was yet another success in the Whingers’ extraordinary run of theatrical good fortune. Has the West End finally turned a corner or perhaps arrived at a place where three roads meet (Do you see what we did there? Classical reference).
Oedipus runs until Sunday January 4th. Now if the National Theatre’s programme planners had their wits about them they’d extend until Sunday March 22nd marketing it as a special Mother’s Day treat.
*Jonathan Kent also happens to be the same name as Clark (Superman) Kent’s adoptive father. Remember baby Kal-El (later Clark Kent) jettisoned to another planet by his parents to save him? Like Oedipus, a mythical character, cast out by his parents, then adopted, and an odd thing going on with his eyes? The parallels are spooky. Even better the two Jonathan Kents share a passing resemblance (right).