Interview with Oedipus Cast and Director

Associate Director Gavin Harrington-Odedra speaks to Robin Holden and Alec Parkinson who play Oedipus and Creon respectively, along with Director Ricky Dukes about our upcoming production of Oedipus at the Blue Elephant Theatre.

 

GH-O:

Thank you all for taking time out of rehearsal to speak to me about Oedipus. A simple question to start with. You have both worked with Lazarus before, what were you in?

 

Alec Parkinson:

I was in Othello, playing Othello.

 

Robin Holden:

I was in Julius Caesar, also Othello, Macbeth, Don Carlos [and] The Hatpin.

 

GH-O:

And what brought you back to Lazarus for Oedipus?

 

AP:

I think what attracted me to work with Ricky and Lazarus Theatre Company was the idea. I think that when I was first told about Oedipus being set in a war trench, I thought that sounds interesting, fun, and that I hadn’t done anything like that before. I hadn’t done any Greek tragedy before, so I thought I’d tackle it head on.

 

RH:

Yeah, I hadn’t done Greek tragedy before, and I possibly have slight arrogance in that every time I’ve seen Greek tragedy it’s lots of actors declaiming and overwrought emotion and that it didn’t ever feel very real, and I always moan about that. Part of me thought that maybe if I had a chance to do it, I could actually do something a bit more truthful with it. So, I think that was part of the attraction. Also, it’s a chance to play a fantastic role. I like the way Ricky works, and he’s a very persuasive person as well. When he starts talking about an idea, suddenly you see it. You think ‘Wow, that does sound amazing. I really would like to do that.’

 

GH-O:

You both said that you haven’t been in a Greek tragedy before, but you have both seen them, presumably. What is it you like about them?

 

RH:

There’s a simplicity to it which is quite great. So, it’s what people say is what they think. And although there is a lot going on under the surface, it’s just sort of an honesty to it, and I think that’s what’s lost if you put too much emotion on top. You lose that kind of simplicity to it, which is a shame. And it’s also a challenge, I suppose, of setting it. The way it was designed was for people inside a massive theatre in Greece, playing to 15,000 people, and it was all kind of simplistic I suppose. You’d have two people talking and a chorus behind them, and how do you put that into a fringe theatre setting and make it interesting?  So you have to work a bit harder with it.

 

AP:

For me, I don’t think I’ve seen a Greek tragedy that I’ve liked. But that’s because I’ve always shied away from them. If I ever see Greek tragedy on somewhere, I’ve never thought ‘Oh, I want to go and see that.’ It’s always been something that hasn’t interested me. The idea for me, playing in an amphitheatre, it never really attracted me. So I was very naive in terms of approaching this project. But, since starting this project and doing my reading. and research, I see that I do like Greek tragedy. I can see why people do like them. I really like how speedy they are, the speed of the narrative. It doesn’t mess around with the story. It just says this is the story, and this play in particular, just speeds through it. And I think it’s a good production to be involved in, in something with such pace because you know that when someone comes in they are literally in there for a rollercoaster ride. Like pow! This is the story and this is how it unfolds, and then it’s finished.

 

RH:

And it’s weird. I was just thinking about it and I don’t think I’ve seen a Greek tragedy where I’ve liked the characters or felt any sort of interest in them, other than the fact that they are voices on the stage. And that’s nice as well. To give a bit more three dimensionality to it and start to bring out the characters, and present somebody who can be sympathetic, unsympathetic or whatever it is, something that makes you interested in them.

 

RD:

And of course there is a school of thought that you shouldn’t feel anything emotionally connected to them. You just give them the facts and that’s it. But, for me then it doesn’t really make it very compelling. The compelling nature is seeing humanity and humans under these extreme pressures. And then it asks us as an audience, ‘What would you do?’ That’s a big big question, particulary in this play. What would you do, faced with all these facts and events which only escalate in scale.

 

RH:

They’re big, aren’t they? That’s the idea. They’re bigger, larger than life characters, so all their powers and all their skills and everything about them is bigger, but so are their faults and so is the arc of the story they go on. So it’s just seeing humanity played out the nth degree and then obviously, as an audience member, you can take parallels of that.

 

AP:

I think it’s really interesting how much similarities there are between Greek tragedy or Greek theatre and a courtroom drama. That is what I get from this. So much of it’s based around politics and that’s how Greek culture was formed. About people talking and debating, and this piece is definitely about these big characters coming in, having a big courtroom fight, battle, debate then going away and different characters coming in and there’s just a bit more hinged on this. It’s like if you lose this you die.

 

RD: The stakes are always high.

 

AP:

Yeah, rather than having a big fine or going to jail, you’ll die. Which is really fun and interesting.

 

GH-O:

I guess you guys have already started talking about this while talking about Greek tragedy, but, what is it about this play that draws you as actors?

 

AP:

Well, I think with Oedipus, so many people who don’t even know Greek tragedy, know about the Freud, Oedipus complex. I think what attracted me to it is that I do actually what to know ‘this’ story. How does the story of Oedipus actually unfold? I think, that attracted me to it because you know of a subject but you can’t really talk about it much, you know? I wanted to actually do it and find out the story and explore the story so you actually have knowledge.

 

RD:

He is a legend, isn’t he? I just have that feeling inside that says “My god, we’re doing Oedipus.’ Not that I didn’t know what we have been doing the last two weeks. But we are doing, arguably, the most classical tragedy ever written. Arguably, it’s the greatest classical tragedy. It’s incredible, and we’re doing it. And that’s the exciting thing about it. It’s a legend. He’s a legend. The name of Oedipus lives far greater than any other classical character. Up there is Medea and Antigone, but the name, the legend, of Oedipus is massive.

 

RH:

Everyone’s heard of Oedipus

 

RD:

Yeah, It’s massive. It’s a huge obligation and responsibility, but then there’s a huge challenge and excitement in that. Well, actually, let’s redefine what the legend of Oedipus means to people.

 

RH:

I suppose that’s the problem. Freud has changed the meaning of Oedipus somewhat, to make him more of a conscious thing, what he’s done. But actually, he’s not. From my point of view, the interesting thing about the play, or the challenge I had was to try and work out why this does happen to him. What was the reason for it? And I think, hopefully, that’s one of the things we answer in this play. ‘What makes it fair?’ in a sense. That all the trauma and tragedy he goes through is for a reason. And it’s trying to work out what that reason is.

 

GH-O:

That’s kind of all the exciting stuff. What part of your character do you find most difficult to connect with?

 

AP:

The most difficult thing for me to connect with Creon, [is] he can come across as being a arrogant two dimensional character in the sense that he just stands up for what he believes in. This is right and if no-one believes me I’m going to kill them, or I’ll kill myself, because Creon is a soldier. He’s one of the biggest soldiers and most decorated leaders at the time. So, I think the hardest things to get into the head of someone who is, you might say, a killer. But that questions to me is always the same with any role you take on because even if you think you’re quite similar to a character you are trying to portray, you always have to try and become the person, or see their decisions through their eyes. For me it’s always hard, no matter if they’re really different from you or not different from you, you just always have to find the reasons why they make their choices. So I don’t know if there is a hardest thing. Creon’s very different from me. I’m not arrogant! It’s a hard one to answer really, but you always start with yourself and then you put everything else on top, your research, and the process.

 

RH:

You start with what makes sense to you and what feels right for you and then the bits that don’t, you have to start working on harder. I suppose with Oedipus, one of the difficulties I’ve had is quite an impetuous person. He thinks very quickly, or he thinks with his gut very quickly. He reacts very quickly, and I’m not. I’m quite a thinky sort of person. It’s having that kind of spontaneity, the confidence and the arrogance to just fire through a chain of thought, often quite a self-centred train of thought, that’s sometimes a bit difficult. But then hopefully, the counterbalance to that is that my normal sort of character traits can be used to make him sort of three-dimensional, rather than that one, kind of, shallow two-dimensional creature. Hopefully.

 

RD:

I actually don’t think that we are that far away from the characters that were written two thousand years ago.

 

GH-O:

I don’t think so either, but I think there’s a perception that we are, because they are written so long ago, that potentially they’re not like us at all, but actually they are.

 

AP:

It’s hard for us to think back to then. It’s almost fairytale land, that far back in history. Did it really happen? Did these people really exist? Yeah, they did!

 

RH:

Essentially human beings haven’t changed. We’re still driven by the same things.

 

RD:

That’s why these plays still survive. It’s like Shakespeare. He was writing about humanity.

 

AP:

People always want to have a photo of someone. Until you see a photo of someone you find it hard to acknowledge that they existed. So obviously from that time there aren’t any surviving paintings or photos, so well, that person looked like whatever I decide in my head.

 

GH-O:

Well actually, your face is Creon.

 

RH:

That’s exactly the thing. Hopefully it will be exciting for the audience. You say Oedipus was somebody, and they’ll have an idea in their head of what Oedipus looks like. Probably some kind of strange, detached, toga wearing man in sandals, and then actually when we do the show, they will start looking at us as if we’re those characters. They’ll look at me as Oedipus, Alec as Creon and we’ll be real people for them. Which is far more exciting than some kind of vague picture.

 

GH-O:

You guys were both in Othello, you said before. You played Othello and Iago. How is it working together again? It’s been a few years now.

 

AP:

I really like working with Robin. It’s easy. I think when you work with a good actor you’ve never got a problem working with them again because I find it painless. You do your work, and you can rest assured that the person on stage bouncing off you has done their work. Every scene I’ve ever done with Robin I’ve been given something back to either react to, or if I’m not in the zone, he can bring me up in the zone. It’s good.

 

RH:

It comes down to things like trust, and being able to have trust in the person you’re with on stage, and having worked with Alec before, he’s a good actor. He gives a lot as well and it’s great. We can go up on stage and do scenes together and you can just relax into it. You can have fun with it. I know if I fire something new at him, he’ll take that and give me something else back. It’s that ability to play and essentially have fun with the text.

 

AP:

It’s quite nice this way. In Othello, I never really got my justice. He kind of gets his way basically, to a certain extent, in our version. We never really have an argument. But in this, I get to release that pent up aggression I’ve had.

 

RH:

It feels like there’s a lot more that we found in this than we had in Othello, actually. It’s possibly the nature of the play that we go on more of a journey together. And also, we’ve changed as actors since then. I hope I can say that I’ve got more, horrible word, mature and learnt more. More experience I guess.

 

GH-O:

Thanks guys. I just have one more question. Ricky will like this question. What is the one role you would like to play before you retire?

 

AP:

I hate this question. I always feel that whenever I answer the questions I think, really? Is that the best character? But my housemate asked me this two days ago and I did think about it and I really like Jean from Miss Julie. I think he’s a great character.

 

RH:

I think it’s a difficult question too. I’ll narrow it down by saying characters in classical texts, so Shakespeare. I’ve had the privilege of playing quite a lot of great Shakespearean roles. But I would love to play Henry the Fifth or Hal from Henry IV. And the great thing about that is it’s two plays.

 

GH-O:

Thanks for your time gentlemen, and I hope the rest of the rehearsal process goes well. I look forward to seeing it on opening night.

 

Oedipus runs at the Blue Elephant Theatre at 8pm from 26th February to 23rd March. http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/oedipus

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