Theatre Review: On the Misconception of Oedipus
On the Misconception of Oedipus at the Malthouse Theatre. Picture: Jeff Busby.

On the Misconception of Oedipus

Malthouse Theatre/Perth Theatre Company

By Zoe Atkinson, Matthew Lutton and Tom Wright

Studio Underground

In the 18 months since artistic director Melissa Cantwell and general manager Nick Clark took the Perth Theatre Company to its new home in the State Theatre Centre's Studio Underground, they have polished it to a high gloss.

Because the company has only scant resources to support its ambitions, it's been a process that has required judiciously cultivated artistic relationships and Cantwell's sharp, urban eye for work that delivers on both style and substance.

In this she has much in common with Matthew Lutton, the ludicrously young Perth director now working out of Melbourne's Malthouse Theatre.

It's his collaboration with the writer Tom Wright and designer Zoe Atkinson that has delivered Cantwell the brilliantly conceived and executed On the Misconception of Oedipus.

Their creative method - Lutton, Wright and Atkinson kick ideas around, with Wright acting as a sort of super-amanuensis - works wonderfully. There is an audacity and freedom about the piece that is exposed, gleeful and mischievous. You can almost see the creative process in motion.

The story, essentially the prequel to the Sophoclean Oedipus tragedies, is familiar: Oedipus (Richard Pyros), the child of Laius (Daniel Schlusser) and Jocasta (Natasha Herbert), is fated to kill his father and become his mother's lover. In this modern telling, neither motivation nor cause- and-effect is significant to the action.

Oedipus kills his father, whom he does not know, because he has a gift for homicide, not patricide.

Jocasta and Oedipus, who do not - at least to begin with - know each other's identity, become lovers because of a purely sexual impulse, not because they are mother and son.

What interests Lutton, Wright and Atkinson, and us, is the psychology, often the psychopathy, of the characters, not the how or why of what happens.

It's a great jumping-off point and they take full advantage of it. The first act is a sort of interrogation, where first Oedipus and then Laius and Jocasta tell their stories facing the audience while a reel-to-reel tape recorder spins accusingly to one side.

In the second act, in two astonishing pieces of physical theatre, Oedipus kills his father, literally smashing him through a wall, and has his first sexual encounter with his mother.

After a hilariously mock- Freudian segue, in which an enormous black sofa is pushed on to the stage through the same hole in the wall, abstraction gives way to a naturalistic scene between the lovers and the truth of their relationship is revealed.

There is wonderful wit, humour, eroticism and violence throughout, driven by perfect performances from all three actors.

Atkinson's set, an illuminated box of plasterboard walls prepped for painting, gives the action sharp, catchy focus, while Paul Jackson and Kelly Ryall's lighting and sound designs are powerful and striking.

The whole thing is fast - over in an hour - tightly woven and exhilarating. This is great theatre.

On the Misconception of Oedipus runs until September 15.

The West Australian

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