Reviewer: Kris Hallett
Having given us a ‘Creep’ of a Dracula and a Victorian Secret runway of A Midsummer Night’s Dream over the past few festivals, hope was high for Action To The Word’s The Theban MotherF**ker, a rock opera ode to Thebe’s most famous Freudian dream. This reviewer hasn’t always been in love with the work artistic director Alexandra Spencer-Jones has created but has always admired the high-concept, high-risk dare of the work she produces, and the same is the case here. In a very early showing of a piece that is sure to develop into something much-changed, the potential is there to become another cult hit. The high drama of Oedipus and the prophesies he tries to escape from fit perfectly into the screaming electric guitars and high-pitched wails of despair coming from the company.
In reality, the intimacies of the Cabaret tent are probably the wrong dynamic for what’s on show here, Spencer-Jones paints her visions in bigger spaces, and though the work is still too early in its development to fill the theatre tent it pulses already with too much energy for the small space. The Greeks require high dynamics, charged elation and throbbing despair and the performers felt restricted in pushing it to the extremes by a space that dictates a subtler tone.
Currently, the piece plays like a song-cycle, a litany of songs that fit an overall narrative without necessarily progressing the plot. It’s been semi-staged here, microphones at the front where performers lean into to sing their lines and recite their dialogue, if Jesus Christ Superstar was the first Rock Opera, The Theban has taken plenty of ideas from it.
Its design is pure rock grunge, that fits in rather nicely with a Thebes struck down by the plague and chaos of a citizenship rebelling. The actors wear tops with the initial of the character they are playing emblazoning their chests. It builds from shaky foundations to a gripping conclusion as Oedipus Rex finally takes the mic, his face a mask of blood.
Look, it’s too early in the process to give it a full review but it can be enthusiastically categorised that there is material here that can be shaped into something rather terrific. Going in, this tired festival-goer was glad to wrap up his Latitude with a bit of Action To The Word and they didn’t disappoint. The Greeks came to Latitude and told their tale, if it didn’t shake the foundations of the festival, at least there was a slight tremor.
Reviewed on 15 July 2018
Image: Victor Frankowski