Theatre review: Oedipus, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Hans Kesting is magnificent and disturbing as Oedipus
Hans Kesting is magnificent and disturbing as Oedipus
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First, the bad news. In the climactic final scene of Robert Icke’s acclaimed production of Oedipus for International Theatre Amsterdam  - brilliantly designed by Hildegard Bechtler for a much wider, open stage - Oedipus’s old mother, who is about to impart some devastating news about the circumstances of his birth, is seated on a sofa so far stage right that at the King’s Theatre, the actors on and around the sofa simply disappear behind a proscenium pillar, and cannot be seen by a large swathe of the audience on the left.

Oedipus, King’s Theatre * * * *

It’s an elementary mistake, and simple to rectify; but it’s also a fatally distracting one for those who care about basic courtesy to the audience, and all the more regrettable because every other aspect of Icke’s production is so clear, so brilliant, so memorable and so powerful.

Set on election night, as new liberal-minded leader Oedipus is about to win a sweeping victory, it surrounds Sophocles’ mighty story with all the paraphernalia of a modern political world - all spin doctors, screens, exit polls and “fake news” - in which those who believe in truth, and strike out too boldly towards it, may find themselves destroyed by their own insistence on openness.

READ MORE: Edinburgh Festivals 2019: Top theatre picks - five of the best shows we’ve seen so far


Hans Kesting is magnificent and disturbing as Oedipus, a liberal alpha-male leader in his late 40’s who is also capable of being cruel and paranoid; Marieke Heebink heartbreaking as his wife Jocasta, a woman who has overcome a tragic youth to find happiness in middle age with her younger husband and their three children, now young adults.

And around them, as an election-night digital clock ticks down through 110 minutes to Oedipus’s terrible moment of realisation, the rest of Icke’s eleven-strong company whip up a gathering storm of terrible poignancy; as good intentions are overwhelmed by savage modern tragedy, and truth is identified as stuff sometimes too cruel for even the best of us to bear.

Until 17 August.

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