Oedipus Schmoedipus

Belvoir, January 15

FOR each performance of the utterly baffling theatre work that is Oedipus Schmoedipus, two dozen volunteers are recruited to perform in the piece. As it turns out they are responsible for a good half of the action, so that was a pretty good wheeze on the part of creators Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose, the trio that calls itself Post – or post, with a lower case p, for reasons unclear to me.

The heavy workload of the volunteers gives Coombs Marr and Grigor, who also appear, an early mark. They don’t even reappear for the curtain call, which one could charitably construe as honouring those who have done the heavy lifting, or uncharitably construe as letting others take the blame for this puerile piece of nonsense.

The show starts with Coombs Marr and Grigor enacting ever more gory deaths. Despite all the chatter about how gruesome the opening is, I thought it a tough, promising start to a show purporting to delve into the subject of death and theatre. But the promised examination of the nature of death, what we may think it is, how we deal with it, what theatre has say about it and anything else that may have been of value remain resolutely unexamined. Gotcha!

Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and volunteers in Oedipus Schmoedipus. Photo: Ellis Parrinder

Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and volunteers in Oedipus Schmoedipus. Photo: Ellis Parrinder

The thing is that Oedipus Schmoedipus is essentially a memento mori, a reminder of the quality all living things share, their inevitable end. Here’s what I reckon. Would it not have been a lot less trouble to simply ask patrons to gather in the Belvoir bar and have the volunteers to walk around the foyer whispering “Remember you must die” to people? That would save an awful lot of rehearsal time and make something for Belvoir at the bar to boot. Obviously you’d have to charge much less for the tickets (the full price is $68) but then you’d save on the cost of opening the upstairs theatre.

You’d also save having to bring in three stage managers to spend between five and seven minutes of the 65-minutes of Oedipus Schmoedipus cleaning a lot of fake blood from the floor. Not the most valuable use of theatre time or patrons’ money I’ve seen, and just a wee bit cynical on the part of the creators.

After the break for cleaning, the piece descends into an extended and extremely superficial skit that glibly references the theatrical canon, indulges in laborious word play and requires the volunteers to expose themselves in silly costumes and silly dances. The Caspar the Friendly Ghost bedsheets with eye-holes thing near the end is truly, bottom-clenchingly dire.

These lovely, willing people manage to emerge with some dignity despite all and yes, it’s touching when volunteers volunteer that they are going to die. It’s just not news.

Oedipus Schmoedipus is hokum. It’s very, very hard to see how it won a prized place on the Belvoir Upstairs program, and as part of the Sydney Festival to boot.

Baffling.

Oedipus Schmoedipus ends February 2.

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