How do I kill thee? Let me count the ways ...

Oedipus Schmoedipus is showing at the Belvoir theatre 9 January to 2 February

Reviewed by University of Sydney students Ira Ferris (Bachelor of Arts majoring in Performance Studies and Art History) and Ben Ferris (PhD in Classics)

Zoe Coombs Marr and Mish Grigor by Ellis Parrinder

Zoe Coombs Marr and Mish Grigor by Ellis Parrinder

After a number of controversial reviews, University of Sydney students Ira Ferris and Ben Ferris volunteered themselves as two of the Oedipus Schmoedipus performers to get a closer look at the action. Below is their report from the inside out; a volunteer’s perspective. As it turns out, the most scandalous and divisive show of the festival might also be the one most worth seeing.

Oedipus Schmoedipus by Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose (collectively known as post) sits somewhere on the verge between performance art and theatre. This post-modern mish-mash of death scenes from the western canon involves two principle actresses (played by Zoë Coombs Marr and Mish Grigor) with 25 volunteering performers (each night a new group) who are given only a 3-hour induction immediately before the show. During the show the volunteers are asked to follow prompts on two screens, suspended over the audience’s heads, feeding them dialogue, gestures, and manic dance moves.

Apart from serving as a functional device that keeps the volunteers on the straight and narrow, the screen prompts add to the absurdity of this already wild theatrical experience, countering the meaty subject matter of death with a sense of light detachment. For over an hour 25 volunteers have their eyes hypnotically fixed on the screens, delivering their lines in a comically robotic fashion, repeating odd and jerky dance choreography, and never really acknowledging or directly engaging with the audience. The result is, of course, ludicrous. This light-hearted approach to death descends on the audience like a great catharsis, allowing us to find humour in the dark inevitably that awaits us all. One of the most powerful moments in the play is when all 25 volunteer performers, one after the other, deliver their lines “I know I will die,” or “I too shall die,” followed by disco music, ridiculous dancing and two confetti-spraying canons.

Less interested in narrative than in provoking a visceral response, Oedipus Schmoedipus is a combination of dark, violent subject matter and absurd comedy, bringing to mind Japanese horror-comedy films such as Takashi Miike’s ‘The Happiness of the Katakuris’ (2001), the tone of which shifts swiftly from macabre to the absurdly comic. While there is a spectacularly gruesome scene that will make you squirm in your seat, there are many more that will make you jump up laughing. One thing is for sure - you will not be bored by this bold, risk embracing, and utterly amusing performance.

By involving a new group of volunteers in each performance and giving them minimum rehearsal time, directors Zoë Coombs Marr and Mish Grigor have created a distinctly unique play that is fresh, spontaneous and a punch in the face of traditional theatre. The volunteers are not professional actors and many of them had no previous stage experience. They are people from various walks of life, including primary school teachers, musicians, and nurses, and they are there to have fun rather than to have their big moment on the stage. This down-to-earth approach translates in their readiness to be totally silly - a far cry from the typical stiff conventionality of formulaic theatre.

Oedipus Schmoedipus is not something you get a chance to see often (if ever) so catch it while you can!

Oedipus Schmoedipus
By post (Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor & Natalie Rose)
Belvoir Theatre
9 January – 2 February