09 May 2015

Oedipus Shmoedipus diary

Oedipus Shmoedipus
9 May 2015
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
to 10 May
Saturday's ensemble. Photo by James Brown.

Friday night

On Saturday afternoon, five of Melbourne's favourite arts writers and critics are volunteer perfomers in post's Oedipus Shmoedipus at Arts House Melbourne. Each show needs 25 volunteers. All we know is that we'll be doing something about death. It was performed at Belvoir last year, so some people know what they are in for. I haven't read anything about it and am going in blind. But I trust post and if I can't put up my hand to be a part of an independent feminist theatre show, then what good am I as an arts writer!

Joining me will be Richard Watts from Arts Hub and RRR, Cameron Woodhead from The Age, Rohan Shearn from Australian Arts Review and Tim Byrne from Time Out.


12.35 am. I wish I were already asleep. Not looking forward to morning alarm but looking forward to whatever we're going to be doing. As long as I don't have to dance, I think I'll be fine. I haven't read any reviews and really don't know what to expect.

8.25. Shit, time to leave but I am awake! 

9.13 We're here. And our special guest surprise from Adelaide is Jane Howard from The Guardian.

 (clockwise) Tim, Myron, Cameron, Rohan, Jane, Me, Richard

4.04 pm You know that nightmare where you're backstage about to go on and you have no idea what you have to do? That's pretty much what performing in Oedipus Schmoedipus was like.

Except it was brilliant and I know that I'm not the only one who would love to do it again tonight.

Each performance uses 26 new volunteers as the chorus to an opus about great white plays about death. We're backstage and can only guess what it's all really about. But I get to see it tonight and understand it as more than nervous fear about my shoe breaking or my skirt being tucked into my knickers.

Our volunteers were a mix of performers and non-performers, but experience didn't seem to make the process any less nerve twitching. After a warm up, everyone was given a number and told to look at a screen above the stage that, we're promised, will tell us what to say and what to do. 

We ran though our parts in the show once, but that's it. 

During lunch, we all knew that few of us could remember much.

The first part of the show is post's Zoe Coombs Marr and Mish Grigor killing each other, many times. Sitting in numbered chairs backstage, all we could hear was the reactions of the audience as we watched the backstage crew getting buckets and mops ready to clean up what must have been litres of blood. 

The first time on stage was as a group, which made it safe and relatively easy, but I really am looking forward to seeing it tonight because two hours later and I'm not sure what we actually did.

Minutes later I had my first solo entrance and this was so like that dream. I really had NO IDEA what I had to do. 

I was fine. The screen told me what to say and then told me to leave. 

I wish I had a screen in real life.

From then on, it was so much fun. The very lovely stage managers told when we had to be ready and the screen told us what to do. It was a bit like karaoke, but more Shakespearean and with dance moves.

Oh yes, there was dancing, including a huge group number where we followed a video of Mish in a pink body suit. 

There was also a surprise for us all – something we weren't expecting – and that moment may have been the most genuine and gloriously wonderful one of the night. As there are still two shows to go, I don't want to give it away.

The last two shows are sold out, but I never believe that sold out means sold out. It's an amazing process and if watching Oedipus Schmoedipus is anywhere near as wonderful as being in it, then it's worth turning up and hoping for no-shows.

Zoe Coombs Marr & Mish Grigor. Photo by Ellis Parrinder

9.57 pm

Wow. WOW! It's impossible to know how powerful this show is from being on the stage.

So much of the volunteer performer process was developed to ensure that the vollies have a positive and fun time; which we did. What we're unaware of is just how these group performances are being made into something bigger and cohesive. The glorious clump of ghosts near the end is a reference to a discussion in the beginning, the lines we read are making a script that can't be see when you're in the middle of it.

And the results of the process are remarkable.

While it's a bit scary on that stage, from the audience side everyone looks like they know exactly what they are doing and that they know their part in the big picture. I heard people in the foyer after the show discussing how well rehearsed the group was; I know they wouldn't have believed me if I'd told them the truth.

Then there's Mish and Zoe's opening: it's confronting and shocking and very very bloody, but funny and somehow welcoming. They die and die and die and it's astonishing.

3.32 pm

For volunteers who still want to dance at home. (And perhaps cry a bit.)

Oedipus Schmoedipus is an opus on the great white writers and their words about death (not grief or loss, just the "there rust and let me die" moments), but it's really about the voices that are missing from that opus.

Watching last night, the scene that was a total hoot to perform but pinched a nerve while watching was the costumed dance. The performers are dressed in costumes – named backstage as "tiny pants", "big pants", "Hedda", "skeleton", "cow" etc – from productions of classics. On stage, as everyone dances and spasms, the laughs make it clear that we can't see ourselves anywhere on that stage – it's just people in costumes, which don't especially fit, reflect or suit them, doing what they are being told to do.

For all the delightful, good looking and extremely talented volunteers, this is a work told by young women – women who once might have hoped to play Juliet's nurse, in their 30s – who know they're not the women in these writings (even though they are works that they still love). So they slashed and bled the great white pages to show the silence and demand a voice for those who still struggle to be heard. And they welcome strangers – most of whom don't look or act like actors – onto their stage to let the sounds of those missing voices reach as far as they can.


  1. I have seen it already, but I wish I could have seen the critics' version. Chookas!

  2. I wish you could have seen it too. Because we had no idea what we were going to do, we didn't actively encourage people. We had a full house anyway, but it still would have been amazing to have more friends there. And we were totally right to totally trust Mish, Zoe and Nat to keep us safe and having fun, while saying so much about feminist theatre and silenced voices. Who knows if The Critical Players will ever return!?