The Internationaal Theater Amsterdam brings us this year’s big blockbuster of a drama with director Robert Icke’s version of “Oedipus”; the hero updated to a present day politician on the eve of his party gaining power.

All three Greek drama unities are preserved, however. Unity of time is literally observed by a large digital countdown clock that we can see bringing us ever nearer to an election result, or a denouement. Unity of place and action is Hildegard Bechtler’s stunning open-plan set, the brightly lit campaign headquarters which somehow combine a busy office with a family dining area.

Hans Kesting is a strong Oedipus, a powerful man with a real sense of family and commitment. There is no doubt about the depth of feeling he shares with his wife Jocasta, vigorously played by Marieke Heebink.

That the play has necessary surtitles is somewhat distracting to the action, however. There is a lot going on on stage that one wants to observe; there is also a lot being said that one has to read to understand, and even as a speedy reader, I found myself at times totally distracted between the two.

There are prophecies to be made by Tiresias, and Hugo Koolschijn is oddly creepy in this role, one that does not sit comfortably in the hi-tech surroundings. When the crunch comes, and the fates align at the climax of this complex play, time – the clock – literally stops. That the stage has been gradually stripped visually prepares us for the palpable shattering of the soul of Oedipus.

Yet somehow I felt curiously underwhelmed. It’s as if the modern setting reduced the horror of taboos broken, and the surtitles distanced us from the powerful scenes.

Kings Theatre until August 17th


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