Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Jeremy Kingston: Retelling Oedipus

By | Published on Sunday 12 January 2014


Jane Nightwork Productions’ latest outing, ‘Oedipus Retold’, on this month and next at Tristan Bates Theatre, has already won praise for its intelligence and humour.

Starring the award winning Jack Klaff (I know he’s an award winner because I presented him with one), and featuring direction from Robert Gillespie, this double-sided staging sees Jeremy Kingston’s ‘Oedipus At The Crossroads’, an adaptation of Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Rex’, produced alongside his new translation of the classic text.

Keen to find out more, I spoke to the playwright about the show.

CM: What made you want to create this adaptation? Are you an admirer of Sophocles?
JK: I wrote the second play, ‘Oedipus at the Crossroads’, first, because I was outraged by what happened to Oedipus and the implication that unquestioning obedience to authority is the proper way to live. The director, Robert Gillespie, suggested a double-bill with the Sophocles original, and after doing this at the Rosemary Branch in Islington, using an old Penguin translation, he asked if I could do one myself. After some hesitation I did so. And yes, of course I’m an admirer of Sophocles. There isn’t one of his plays that fails to generate puzzling thoughts and strong emotion.

CM: How different from the original play is the reworked version which forms the second part of the production?
JK: My version exactly follows the development in the original plot. I cut many repetitions and archaic references. The language is often conversational. The chief difference is the use I make of the Chorus, two figures I call Citizens. One of them goes along with the implications of Oedipus’s downfall; the other questions them.

CM: What themes does this production explore?
JK: The plays question the assumption that obedience to the gods, the priesthood, leaders and authorities of any sort is a necessary good. Whenever authorities seek to control us in order to keep themselves in power they are to be resisted.

CM: The much acclaimed and award winning Jack Klaff appears in this production – how did he get involved?
JK: Jack (playing a Cardinal) and director Robert Gillespie (playing a monk) acted together in a production of ‘The Representative’ at the Finborough. They got on well, found they shared similar interests, and Robert thought that the two meaty parts in the Oedipus plays might appeal to him. He read them, said “Yup”, and there we were.

CM: Which is easier, writing theatre, or writing reviews of theatre?
JK: Writing theatre reviews takes an hour or two, longer if research is necessary. Writing the play is immeasurably harder. On a scale of 1 to 100, review-writing is 1, play-writing 99.

CM: You’ve also written novels, children’s books and poetry. Out of those three, do you have a favourite?
JK: The satisfaction is so different, though in each case the process of creating a ‘myth’ brings intense happiness. Probably poetry has to be my favourite because the intensity of imagery and expression can be so powerful.

CM: Are there plans for the production in its current format to be staged again, or toured at any point?
JK: No plans yet. Open to offers.

CM: Do you have any more theatrical projects in the pipeline?
JK: I was watching one of the opening performances of these plays and suddenly realised one of the actors was perfect for a play I began thinking about some years ago, but the actor I’d then had in mind suffered a stroke so I abandoned the idea. I’ve now taken it up again, though it’s only taken its first hesitant push into the pipeline.

‘Oedipus Retold’ is on at Tristan Bates Theatre until 8 Feb, see this page right here for more info and tickets.

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