The Independent, 23 July 2013

Thebans Review

In Aristophanes' comedy, The Frogs, Aeschylus and Euripides argue about whether Oedipus was born unlucky or just became so as he went through his life, unluckily killing his father, marrying his mother and putting out his eyes with pins. Bad enough that he's cursed, huffs Aeschylus. But then to marry a woman old enough to be his mother - that's really unlucky. It was Oedipus' destiny, so Aeschylus maintains he was always the most wretched of men, even before anything bad had actually happened.

Oedipus' story is so bleak that the prospect of a kids' show (with puppetry and songs) about him would intrigue anyone. Would there be puppet incest? Musical eye-gouging? Sensibly, the devisers of Prince of Thebes at London's free open-air theatre, The Scoop, shy away from this period in Oedipus' life and instead give the youthful hero an adventure with Archie the talking bear, and a steam-punk Pandora, who's on a mission to reclaim the evils she inadvertently freed into the world.

This energetic and charming children's show is followed by a thoughtful adaptation of Oedipus The King. Sophocles' Theban plays are threaded through with the twin themes of destiny and blindness, and Lisa Kuma has kept these themes prominent in her script. Oedipus' great irony is that he begins the play with perfect vision but no insight. He's convinced of his rightness, desperate to avoid the truth that is staring him in the face. As the soothsayer Teiresias, mocked by Oedipus for his blindness, demands: 'Have you eyes, and do not see your own damnation?' Only at the end of the play, blinded, does he see things clearly.

The adaptation of Antigone which follows is not quite so successful. Creon, brother to Jocasta and king of Thebes (Oedipus' sons have killed each other in single combat, bringing his curse to its ugly fruition), is surprisingly meek. He should be a rigid bureaucrat, so determined to maintain the letter of the law that he has no humanity left for his niece Antigone (an excellent Lucy Cudden), when she buries her 'bad' brother against his orders. Without this rigidity, his character makes little sense: the play relies on the opposing values its two central characters place on civil and religious laws.

But The Scoop has long been the best place to enjoy free Greek tragedies in London, and this year's offerings are - as always - well worth the trip to City Hall.