The Kingdom, Soho Theatre, London
Tuesday 30 October 2012
Three Irishmen in dusty suits – one young, one old, one middle-aged – hack at the rocks and shovel away the pieces on a stark building site. And as they dig, they buttonhole us with tales that gradually merge into one narrative whose lineaments begin to evince a disturbing familiarity.
Premiered in a fiercely intense and mountingly haunting production by Lucy Pitman-Wallace, Colin Teevan's new play is a powerful, partially persuasive transposition of the Oedipus myth to the world of Irish migrant workers in London during the diaspora of the second half of the twentieth century.
The experience of exile and the pattern of moving from rags to riches and back again are the features that bind this free re-working, written with a sinewy, musical eloquence, to the ancient Greek original.
The Sophoclean tragedy is inexorably linear as the unwitting Oedipus conducts an investigation into a crime of which he will turn out to be the cursed perpetrator. What gives this version its terrible fascination is the ironic way it interweaves and antiphonally counterpoints the story of the protagonist's rise with the narrative of his downfall and uses dogged digging as a metaphor for the unearthing of horrific truths.
Anthony Delaney is engagingly cocky as the Young Man who flees a harsh Christian foster home in Ireland and with witty cunning makes a successful take-over bid for a London building firm owned by a corrupt John Bull proprietor.
His freshness and amused idealism are in striking contrast with the escalating panic of Owen O'Neill as his rattled middle-aged self struggling to cope with the onslaught of uncovered secrets about a tinker's curse on a rapist Irish tyrant and the dread consequences of usurping the role of Fate with the toss of a coin.
The stakes are inevitably lower (the well-being of a whole city is not in jeopardy) and the fit sometimes feels awkward. But there are also some lovely things, such as having the protagonist and the unseen Jocasta meet for the first time by the shrine to Our Lady in the convent where, it turns out, she found refuge after being banished from Ireland by the abusive father whose son she had borne.
Tellingly, it's in this now demolished and de-sanctified site that the old, blinded Oedipus-figure (excellent Gary Lilburn) seeks sanctuary at the end of a play that movingly presents Irishness as the state of being nowhere at home.
To Nov 17; 0207 478 0100
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