‘Oedipus Schmoedipus’ is a play about death, with a cast including 25 different volunteers each night. And I was one of them! This could be a recipe for disaster. Instead, it’s a triumph.
Created by the Sydney-based collective post (with no capital letter, so you know they’re avante-garde), the play was written by Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, and Natalie Rose, and stars the first two women. If the tripled-barrelled Zoë Coombs Marr sounds familiar, it’s only because she’s one of the highlights of the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Together, they sort through the classics to glean what they can about one of the two inevitabilities of existence: death. (The other being taxes. Thanks, Ben Franklin.)
I saw there was a call-out for 25 volunteers to perform each night of the performance. A one-day commitment? That’s my kinda theatre. I finally arrived at the Melbourne Town Hall on Wednesday afternoon soaking wet and with tears of frustration in my eyes (I’d gotten both the time and location wrong; and wandering around, lost, in the rain in North Melbourne whilst trying to find a cab is no one’s idea of fun). I was assigned a number and whisked backstage to wait my number’s turn to rehearse. The eclectic nature of the play was reflected in the volunteer cast, made up of everyone from a barrister who’d taken the afternoon off, to a uni student wanting to practice public speaking, to a retired member of the Women’s Circus.
The play was performed over 30 times in Sydney before making it to Melbourne, and they have everything down pat. Each performer follows the instructions on two screens, one hanging on each side of the ceiling above the audience. ‘1-12 form a v’, the screen will read, and the participants with those numbers do just that. Or ‘evens: MOAN’, and everyone with an even number (I was 24) lets out a groan. The rehearsal was spent blocking our positions, rehearsing said moans and choreography, and practicing speaking in unison when quotations flashed on the screens.
‘Oedipus Schmoedipus’ is dark. Like, really really dark once you listen to the words. The program explains that post referenced everyone from ‘Aeschylus, Anon (hah. -T.), Barrie, Behn, Boucicault, Büchner, Chekhov, Euripides, Gogol, Goldsmith, Gorky, Hugo, Ibsen, Jonson, Marlowe, Mayakovsky, Molière, Pirandello, Plautus, Racine, Seneca, Shakespeare, Sophocles, Strindberg, Voltaire, Wedekind, to Wilde’. It was fun sitting backstage guessing what they were quoting or referencing.
The start of the play is all blood and gore, and I wish they’d had a screen backstage so we could have seen the mayhem that Coombs Marr and Grigor inflict upon one another. (Hint: all that blood has to come from somewhere.) The remainder of the play involves the volunteers at various points, with a poignant moment towards the end where we all chanted in unison about death, dropping off one by one until a single voice concludes.
Lest you think it’s depressing, it’s not. The audience spent most of the time laughing — a major feat while tackling such a sombre subject. The camaraderie we experienced as cast members was reflected by the attendees. Speaking to a friend afterwards, he said that he felt kinship with everyone in the room as the suddenly realised everyone in the theatre will someday die.
We are. But first we can live. And seeing ‘Oedipus Schmoedipus’ is one of the ways to do it.
‘Oedipus Schemoedipus’ runs Wed. 6 to Sat. 9 May at the Melbourne Town Hall.
The venue is accessible.
Buy tickets now.
There’s still time to be a part of it. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and you might be able to perform this weekend.