**** 4 stars

By Natalia Ristovska

Everyone loves a tragedy – particularly when it’s someone else’s. One has only to study the rising popularity of true crime podcasts and endlessly trending serial killer documentaries on *insert your streaming service of preference here* to realise that, as a species, humans have an insatiable thirst for and fascination with the macabre. Add to that a global pandemic and scores of individuals looking to distract themselves from the horror story that is the daily news, and you have an audience ready and willing to throw themselves into whatever melodrama is readily available, easily consumable and gritty enough without making you feel that you need a shower afterward.

Loucas Loizou’s offering of ‘Oedipus Rex – The King (A Mini Musical),’ filmed during the Adelaide Fringe Festival in the historic Treasury Tunnels, has come at the perfect time to an online artistic landscape. Part of Melbourne Fringe Festival’s 2021 Digital Fringe program, it allows the viewer to tune in from home at a time of their convenience, hunkering down with their snacks of choice to watch the train-wreck of someone else’s life. In this instance, the life in question is the rather unfortunate and well-traversed tale of King Oedipus Rex of Thebes.

“…entering so joyfully that same passage that gave me exit into the world…sowing my seed into the warm earth where I was germinated…” – Oedipus Rex (Sophocles)

First performed in 429BC, Oedipus the King (or Oedipus Rex) is an Athenian tragedy written by Sophocles, about a boy who loved his mother. Quite literally, frequently and very much biblically, in fact. That Oedipus was unaware of his biological connection to his Queen before he sired four children with her is irrelevant – what matters was that it happened and the audience was very much there for the telling of it.

The story contains all the usual tragic tale tropes – a rapist King who woos the woman of his dreams (read: harasses her into letting him out of the friend-zone), a widow who claims she will never love again until she is legally coerced into marrying the next guy who is remotely useful to the kingdom, secret heirs that have to be left out in the desert to die because ‘some prophet said they’d grow up and murder me,’ royalty being rude to blind seers and getting confused when retaliation comes with nasty predictions. It’s a wonderful cocktail of deceit, betrayal, patriarchy and people who really should know better than to mess with the fates. But mess with them they do.

Enter Loucas Loizou, two and a half thousand years too late for Sophocles but nonetheless perfectly suited to narrate this tale of woe. A Cyprian refugee, Loizou is the embodiment of a Sophoclean tragedian, or that European uncle at parties that all the kids loved because he told the most amazingly inappropriate stories while their parents weren’t looking, full of violence and death. ‘Uncle Loucas’ takes the audience’s hands from the get-go, leading them gently through horrors that never quite seem that bad as they pass his lips. His authentic accent and well-chosen robes serve to lend both atmosphere and a measure of credibility to the truth of his telling – the story itself narrated from memory, the dialogue far more casual and modern than alternate poetic offerings of academia. One could almost believe Loizou to be recounting the story of an old acquaintance, the mischievous yet sombre sparkle in his eyes and the eager nod of his head all serving to assure the viewer that yes, this did indeed happen to a friend of a friend of mine…

 Through Loizou’s words and songs we are transported back in time, his easy and measured cadence almost lulling and soothing. Here be monsters, he says…but you are safe with me. And indeed we are. For the hour that the audience is on this journey, they are in gentle time-worn hands, moved this way and that as they are nudged through Oedipus’ tale to it’s inevitable bloody end by a seasoned storyteller who never allows them to falter.

Musically, Loizou is firmly on brand, armed with an acoustic guitar and a handful of original folk songs carefully placed throughout the hour with a Shakespearean knack for both prolonging and alleviating theatrical tension. The songs themselves are clearly lovingly written and – while serving more to extrapolate mood rather than as a device to further the story – are a delight to hear. Perhaps their only drawback is that often they seemed to go on just that little bit too long. This in itself is not an issue – one could easily sit back and listen to Loizou sing and play for hours (preferably with a glass of red and a platter of cheese and fruit on hand) –  but more than once I found myself eager to get back to the story. Had this performance contained no music at all, it would not have been any less engaging – albeit at the loss of the opportunity to hear some genuinely beautiful folk music.

The finale, which I will not spoil, delivered exactly what it needed to, in a climax that would have made any wide-eyed child (or avid true crime thrill seeker) shriek and clap with sadistic delight. The location of the Treasury Tunnels further served to set the scene, the lighting warm and adequate for both the viewer and the camera (though a performance by candlelight would be an exquisite thing to behold).

If you are looking for a truly awful tale about people trying to outsmart their destiny and self-fulfilling prophecies, then look no further than Loizou’s take on Sophocles’ classic. One of three digital performances that Loizou has in this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival, it is both a fulfilling little titbit of entertainment and a warm and welcome reminder of what Fringe theatre should be – deliciously beautiful, tragic and just a little bit bloody.

Images: Doug Mason