Five reasons you should see Oedipus

Posted on 22 March 2024

Written more than 2,000 years ago, Oedipus is the mother of all plays! This timeless tale of fate and morality has birthed countless adaptations, novels, and even a global psychoanalytic theory! It is one of the most influential works of all time, with Aristotle just one of its many famous fans. In fact, the writer was so enamoured with the piece he wrote an entire book devoted to the play, claiming that Sophocles’ work was the ‘pinnacle of tragedies.’ 

Brought into the 21st century, Robert Icke’s modern retelling of the Greek masterpiece transports the action into the bloodthirsty world of politics. Election night is looming, and tensions reach fever pitch as a predicted landslide victory vanishes and civil unrest soars. Who will emerge victorious in the new world, and will their spoils merit the bloodshed? 

Playing for a strictly limited run, here are five reasons why you need to see Oedipus when it opens at Wyndham’s Theatre later this year.

The history and legacy

Written in 420BC, Oedipus is one of the most celebrated works of ancient Greek literature and still holds significant historical and cultural importance today. Shakespeare was inspired by the mythology when he penned Hamlet, highlighting the troubled Prince’s unresolved father-issues and maternal fixation as he attempts to navigate his path towards the throne. Hundreds of years later, playwrights continue to look towards the piece for inspiration. Eugene O'Neill's critically acclaimed Long Day's Journey Into Night, shows the impact of unresolved relationships as son, Edmund, battles against his father’s crushing personality, whilst also crushing on his mother… 

The plot

The play is renowned for its tightly woven plot, filled with suspense, irony, and dramatic revelations.

The story follows Oedipus, a man who unwittingly fulfils a prophecy by killing his father and marrying his mother. He is informed of his fate at a young age and is horrified by it, in a desperate bid to avoid the future foretold to him he creates a series of events which, ironically and tragically, ultimately leads to the very murder and marriage he so desperately tried to escape.

Delving into the complex interplay between fate and free will, Oedipus struggles against the prophecy foretelling his tragic destiny. The classic story raising profound questions around human agency and the extent to which individuals can control their own lives, and continues to spark discussions and theories to this day.

The characters

Oedipus undergoes a profound transformation throughout the play, devolving from a confident and respected ruler to a broken and humbled man. He is a famous figure in theatre and literature, with many people aware of Oedipus and his actions, even if they haven’t read or seen his story. His status as a cultural figurehead, raises the question: why is it that people are drawn to tragic heroes? The catharsis we experience in watching the downfall of the powerful man was the basis to Aristotle’s Poetics, and continuously draws audience members to the theatre.

His mother (and subsequently, his wife) is also an interesting and complex character. She has ruled as the Queen of Thebes for many years, and as such is confident in her own authority and power. Although she is not the play’s tragic hero, she too faces fatal consequences for trying to outsmart the Gods. She believed that man’s free will can derail planned prophecies and is painfully mocked when it turns out this isn’t the case. However, she refuses to be painted as the victim, and continues to hold her head high throughout.

The cast

Olivier award winners, Mark Strong and Lesley Manville star in the latest adaptation of the classic and tragic tale.

Best known for his performances in Oscar winners Zero Dark Thirty and The Imitation Game, as well as the BAFTA winning Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Mark Strong seamlessly transitions from stage to screen. He began his theatre career in the early 2000s, starring in Heartlands and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Donmar Warehouse, for which he was nominated for the 2003 Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role. In 2015 he picked up the Olivier award for Best Actor for his performance in A View from the Bridge, and was nominated for the Outer Critics Choice Award and Drama Desk Award for the same role a year later.

Best known for her frequent collaborations with Mike Leigh, Lesley Manville first came to prominence in the 1970s, when she burst onto the screen as Rosemary Kendall in Emmerdale. She has been a frequent face on stage and screen, appearing in new plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Warehouse and Royal Court Theatre throughout the 70s and 80s, most notably originating the role of Patient Griselda in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. She has been nominated for two BAFTA awards for her roles in Another Year and Phantom Thread, with her performance in the latter earning her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. In 2011 she was nominated for an Olivier award for her performance in Mike Leigh's play Grief at the National Theatre. Two years later she won the Olivier and the Critics Circle Theatre award for her role in Ibsen’s Ghosts.

The director

Multi award winning director, Robert Icke is best known for his haunting play The Doctor, starring Juliet Stevenson. The production was nominated for the Best New Play at the Olivier awards, and saw Icke pick up his first Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Director, the second win happened in the same year, for his direction of The Wild Duck. In addition to new pieces he has also modernised classic texts, namely; Oresteia, Mary Stuart, and 1984, which he devised with Duncan Macmillan. He has been hailed the "great hope of British theatre" by The Stage and has been elected as one of the 40 under 40 by the Royal Society of Literature. Icke has received two Olivier nominations in addition to his 2016 win for Oresteia, this historic win saw him become the youngest ever recipient of the Best Director Olivier award!

Book tickets to Oedipus now!

Get priority access to the mother of all tragedies! Book tickets to Oedipus, starring Mark Strong and Lesley Manville today.