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Greek review, Arcola Theatre, London – ‘energetic revival of Turnage’s outrageous opera’

Edmund Danon in Greek at the Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli
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It’s no wonder that Greek, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s first opera, made the 28-year-old composer’s name in 1988. Turnage’s brilliant, percussive score took an already-outrageous retelling of the Oedipus story by Steven Berkoff and kicked it into another dimension. But 30 years after its premiere, Greek’s 1980s roots are showing, even in the Arcola Theatre’s fine production, helmed by Jonathan Moore, who directed the original production.

As a period piece, Greek, presented here as part of the Grimeborn opera festival, has a lot to recommend it. With a few exceptions, such as a video montage of urban riots from Thatcher’s era to our own, Moore doesn’t force an update. Greek is the story of young Eddy, who is eager to ascend the social ladder by swapping the ‘cruddy pubs’ frequented by his mum and dad for wine bars. When a fortune-teller suggests that their son’s future includes incest, patricide and being the source of a city-wide plague, his parents boot him out. He lands in the arms of a comely waitress, right after after killing her husband. We think we know what comes next. But the 1980s were all about the individual and Eddy rejects his ultimate fate – ‘bullocks to that!’ – with a defiance that shook up the opera world.

The singers make the most of a small stage with their sheer physicality, supported by well-tempered playing and well-timed foot stomping from the Kantanti Ensemble under Tim Anderson. Edmund Danon thrives as Eddy, first frustrated with his lot and then giddily lustful for his wife/mother (the plummy-voiced Laura Woods). As Dad, Richard Morrison is compelling in voice and presence; he’s well partnered by the ardent singing and acting of Philippa Boyle as Mum.

Although its social message cuts less sharply than it did in 1988, this energetic revival of Greek still hits you in the ears and eyes and doesn’t let up.

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Energetic revival of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera based on the play by Steven Berkoff