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The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘rich and strange’

Tom Purbeck, James Rigby and Dannie Pye in The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus at the Finborough Theatre, London. Photo: Samuel Taylor

Tony Harrison’s 1988 play The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus takes fragments of a lost satyr play by Sophocles and spins them into an allegory for art and class.

It’s a smart revival from the Finborough. Apollo with his lyre becomes a cultural gatekeeper, decreeing cheap booze for the half-beast satyrs, the Royal Festival Hall for the divine elite.

Harrison’s play is a moving piece of writing, big-hearted and angry. Woven with deft, Seussian rhymes that bridge the very high/low gap they rail against, the play makes supple use of its source material, both scatological and Sophoclean, marching determinedly from 1907 to Ancient Greece to the present day with the same message: art belongs to the rich.

Jimmy Walters’ production doesn’t interrogate this allegory so much as cheerfully reproduce it, offering an anodyne vision of the working class populated by shell-suited white men with broad northern accents – particularly thorny when many of these performers begin the play acting Egyptian Muslims at prayer. Barring some naff projection, the papyrus-strewn design transports and transforms, though Amy Lawrence’s full-blooded choreography longs for a little more space.

A world-weary performance from Richard Glaves as Silenus gives the play proper emotional weight, while Tom Purbeck is a physically dexterous Apollo straight out of Brideshead Revisited, all manners and sneers. They are given lusty support by a chorus of clog-dancing satyrs whose fine comic timing outweighs the success of the play’s final shift into tragedy.


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Linguistic delights and earthy laughs in a revival of a rich and strange play