Thursday, March 07, 2013

There's No Smoke without Fire: 'Oedipus' after Sophocles at The Blue Elephant

'You should know these streets like the back of your hand,' I said to my companion, as we plunged into a housing estate off the north end of Camberwell new Road. To be fair, he was born and raised nearer to the Camberwell Green end,  opposite the bus garage, so no wonder he was as lost as I was. As I taught at a school in the neighbourhood for eight years, I should arguably have been au fait myself. But it had all changed since the tower blocks went up. All we had to go on were the maps on hoardings that stood on corners with helpful 'You are Here' arrows. The murky street lighting didn't help much. So it was more luck than judgement that brought us to the Blue Elephant. Just as we were about to give up, I  spotted the neon-lit logo next to a lamp-post, and an open doorway opposite.
In a simply furnshed upstairs bar a couple of cast members were eating fish and chips from papers spread on  the tables. We cast envious glances as we nibbled on the only available fare- plain crisps-and drank free glasses of press-night red wine - good quality, as it happened. The place soon filled up  with customers.
The play, Oedipus, was given a throughly modern interpretation and all the action took place on or near a  battlefield in WW2. 
Normally, I like the use of smoke to create atmosphere onstage. I thought the swirling mist  in Susan Hill's  The Woman in Black was thoroughly spooky.  But  I wasn't happy  to be enclosed in a smoke-filled box for an hour and a half. I wonder how the cast will fare over a three week run, with likely   outbreaks of asthma among the cast and complaints from smoke-sensitive  audience members. The absence of an interval didn't help - arranged, as my companion suggested, so they didn't let  all the smoke out.
That said, I enjoyed the play and I'm sure they'll soon have the smoke-generator under control. But I'd recommend going early, to give yourself time to get lost in the back-streets.
My review appears on the Remotegoat website. 

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