Berkoff’s Oedipus was never going to be dull. It had masterpiece or car-crash written all over it, but it was never going to be dull.
This most theatrical of British actors has turned his attention to one of the most enduring and florid texts in the medium. You can expect fireworks. I suspect few who have seen Berkoff’s effort at the Liverpool Playhouse went away disappointed.
Berkoff directs his actors in tableaux, as if constructing a moving image from millions of separate stills. Every scene is a sight to behold, with actors contorting and writhing into different shapes and poses; mouths agape or clenched in horror, admiration, revulsion or angst. It mirrors the mannered speech of Berkoff’s players, though the lines are never stilted; there’s a smooth rhythm to it all that’s quite entrancing.
At the centre of everything is Simon Merrells, a huge and apparently effortless performance that pitches Oedipus as part-Berkoff, part-Blair. The play begins with him at the centre of a long table and he remains at the centre – everything radiating out from him. He absolutely commands the play, as befits the character on whom everything hinges.
There are problems; the play threatens to sag as Oedipus staggers towards the inevitable and the stylised choreography may grate on some.
But as a kissing cousin of Berkoff’s previous Greek, Oedipus is a fascinating, unnerving and deeply affecting production brought to life by a virtually flawless cast.
There’s a fuller review over at SevenStreets