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Going into the theatre started with a surprise at the entrance, when the ushers told us the seats were up on stage.

“Huh?”

But that was the tiniest of surprises compared to what Korean theatre company 죽달 Juk-Dal (name derived from their first show 죽도록 달린다 Running to the Death) had in store for me at their production of The Chorus: Oedipus.

Forceful and visceral, this production of Oedipus holds you tightly by the collar and socks you squarely in the gut. You know that it’s coming, you know the answer to all the questions Oedipus has about his birth, but you keep hoping and hoping it’s not true. Director Seo Jae-Hyung did an amazing job with the staging. From the choice of having seating on the stage, creating physical intimacy between the audience and the cast, to having Oedipus scale the proscenium steps alone at the end, all these choices seemed to have been meticulously thought out, and to good effect. The proximity of the audience to the stage (I was in the first row) meant that when the ravens descended on Oedipus, I felt like the ravens were assaulting me. When the combat scene ensued, I felt like I was physically hit. This was part of what made Oedipus such a spectacle – the intimacy you felt with the entire production.

Other than searing images, like that of Jocasta falling into Oedipus’ arms, or her pleading with Oedipus not to look at her with that light in his eyes, or Oedipus ascending the steps towards the light and exiting to live a lonely existence forevermore – there were also the haunting sounds which the actors created, sounds of ravens cawing, and a sinister swoosh the Chorus created that to me, signalled destiny chasing after Oedipus. The use of four pianos, tight choreography and amazing harmony among the Chorus made for an almost tactile experience. They evoked despair, hope and deep sympathy in me as the play went along. The emotions are the things that linger long after I leave my seat. And so.. these were the images and sounds that I will be hard-pressed to forget. I was glad to be a citizen of Thebes, just for a night.

Oedipus refused to let me go, long after I left the theatre.

Poor Oedipus, poor, poor Oedipus.
오이디푸스, 불쌍한 오이디푸스.

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“난 오이디푸스, 난 신이 아니다
고통 많은 다 테베를 위해
신게 버려진 백성을 위해”
I, Oedipus, I am no god
For Thebes, that suffers greatly,
For the people that the gods have abandoned..

“그 삼거리.. 나도 지나왔지.. 그 삼거리.”
That intersection.. I’ve also passed it, haven’t I.. that intersection.”

“신이 이렇게까지 미워 할 수 밖에 없었나 탄식이다.”
There is no one that the gods detest more than me.

“나는 신이 아니다.
나는 살았고,
그들을 사랑했고,
그래서 고통스러웠다.”
I am no god.
I have lived, and
I have loved them,
And so I suffer.

Update: 2017

This week’s essay features Oedipus as our Greek hero, and this brings me back to this production. (https://youtu.be/MLQ2RS3Qb_4)

If there was ever a play that changed my life, this would be it. Oedipus Rex is deeply affecting (and disturbing) on its own, but with this staging it is seared in my mind for ever. The simultaneous primal instinct to do whatever you need to in order to survive – even if it means subverting fate – juxtaposed with the inevitable fallibility and vulnerability of being human, the beauty and tragedy of being all too human, all enhanced by the masterful theatricality of this production – once again, I find myself inexplicably moved by this production 3 years on.

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