Opera review: Greek

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Edinburgh International Festival: Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera Greek – a ballsy star turn at the 1988 EIF – has resurfaced almost 30 years on in a new production by Joe Hill-Gibbins, which has fresh thoughts to offer.

Edinburgh Festival Theatre

****

The underlying thrust of Greek, based on Steven Berkoff’s play, remains the same: a punk-fuelled child-of-the-80s reworking of the Oedipus story, in which London East Ender, hard Eddy, amid a backdrop of anti-Thatcherite anarchy and unrest, walks out on his adopted parents, gets caught up in a vicious riot, unwittingly kills his real father, then settles in a grotty cafe with a girl who turns out to be his mother.

The real clincher in this Opera Ventures/Scottish Opera co-production is Hill-Gibbins’ focus on psychology rather than epoch. Yes, there are neo-punk elements in what are essentially post-Weill showtime numbers – how could there not be, given the foul-mouthed language and Turnage’s “f*** you” music?

However, any actual violence is confined to Johannes Schütz’s minimal set design – a plain white revolving all that awakens only to symbolic live projections of greasy spoon breakfast ingredients (including maggots), slapped on in the brutal fashion of an evolving Jackson Pollock canvas. Food for thought.

Hill-Gibbins tells us that running away won’t alter fate. As Eddy, Scottish Opera Emerging Artist Alex Otterburn makes a convincingly stubborn case – feisty yet open to sympathy – ably supported by the incisive multiple characterisations of Andrew Stone, Allison Cook and (despite her occasionally hoarse-sounding and consequently under-projected interpretation of the composer’s myriad vocal directions) Susan Bullock.

Under conductor Stuart Stratford on Saturday, the truculent score took time to throw its most vicious punches, but when it did, the air turned blue.

I did miss the visual in-your-face shock factor, but, perversely, I did like the fact we found lots to laugh about.