Greek review at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘bold and tacky’
Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera adaptation of Steven Berkoff’s Greek, a tale of joyfully racist cockneys and the rotting underbelly of the collapsing English state, is at the heart of the opening weekend of the celebratory 70th-anniversary Edinburgh International Festival.
It is an appropriate fit. While Edinburgh celebrates internationalism and a world which forged peace out of discord, this England is a land floundering, unbidden, into the quagmire of a modern take on the myth of Oedipus. And in the Oedipal figure, Eddy, Alex Otterburn portrays a man wilfully going to his own destruction and dragging with him all those around him.
Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production for Opera Ventures and Scottish Opera is bold and tacky. Alex Lowde’s costumes are PVC fetish-wear; the four singers descend into the pit at times, to manipulate images which are projected up on to the revolving backdrop. Otterburn sprinkles maggots, which wriggle and squirm in bold and gaudy Technicolor. They are replaced by pages from contemporary newspapers with headlines of bloody revenge and pictures of naked flesh.
The four-strong company delivers Turnage’s strident music with all the force it deserves, bringing out the comic and finding the violence. Susan Bullock’s Mother and Andrew Shore’s Father are hand-wringing in their revelations, Allison Cook as Eddy’s wife is an avaricious widow, determined to replace her husband.
It takes place on a thin strip of stage, in front of the white revolve with an open doorway at either end. On turning, it extends out over the pit, threatening to sweep the singers off the stage. Greek had its UK premiere at the EIF in 1988, towards the end of the Thatcher era. Three decades later, it feels more relevant than ever.