Review: Goblins' second foray into classics still genius

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Theatrical lightning can strike twice, especially if the bolt is wielded by a trio of goblins.

Goblin: Macbeth, created and performed by Rebecca Northan, Bruce Horak and Ellis Lalonde for Calgary’s Shakespeare Company in 2022, was such a hit it played to sold-out houses at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach and the Stratford Festival again last year.

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Those goblins are back at High Performance Rodeo until next Saturday, this time gleefully plundering Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.

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The ribald fun begins as the audience lines up to enter the Arts Commons’ Big Secret Theatre. Wug, Kragva and Moog enter carrying a giant phallus which they demand be passed along the lineup and into the theatre. As the audience gets seated, the goblins recruit a dozen men to be the onstage Greek chorus, a necessary staple of any Greek drama. They get to wear red togas and masks and are given reactions to perform whenever they hear certain words. This recruiting and training is hilarious and effectively serves its purpose of putting the audience at ease and in anticipation of more slapstick fun.

The bawdy irreverence continues as the trio explains some principles of ancient Greek theatre, arguing whether the essential orgy is supposed to occur before or after the performance. They also promise no audience member will be sacrificed during the performance, but can’t vouch for what may happen after the show.

It’s decided Horak will play Oedipus, Lalonde a messenger from Corinth, and Northan every other character. The stage lighting changes and then the play begins and the magic happens. The goblins are using the late Calgary playwright John Murrell’s 1988 stage version of Sophocles’ play, which he wrote for the Stratford Festival. It’s a beautiful, moving text and Horak and Northan treat it with the reverence it deserves, and yet they are still able to insert some great improvised stage business.

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The audience does get the full impact of this story of a man who was unwittingly made to murder his father and marry his mother just so the Oracle of Delphi’s prophesy could be fulfilled. It’s what King Lear means when he says “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods/They kill us for their sport.”

Not everyone can juggle high drama and high lunacy with such skill and make it look so effortless and spontaneous.

Horak takes Oedipus from defiant to devastated and, finally, to defeated. It’s a powerful performance that he can break out of to banter with Northan, and then resume without losing its impact.

Lalonde provides all the onstage music and sound effect cues. It’s meant to be background, but in one inspired moment, he gives more than required, prompting Horak and Northan to sit back and, like the audience, enjoy his antics and his skill as a musician.

Like Horak, the genius of Northan’s performance as Queen Jocasta, her brother Creon, the blind prophet Tiresias, and an aged shepherd is that, once she fully enters these characters, there’s no kibitzing, just straight on acting, but she can slip out of them just as easily and quickly for some, often naughty, spontaneous fun. The continued involvement of the chorus is hilarious. It’s the pure inspired lunacy we have come to expect from Northan who not only acts but directs.

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Ralamy Kneeshaw’s set, costumes, masks and props give the production a professional sheen.

At the end of the evening, Northan’s goblin promises they’re scouring the whole cannon of theatre for their next project, and suggests it might just be Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I hope this was not an off-the-cuff remark, because I for one can already envision Horak as Scrooge, Lalonde as Tiny Tim and Northan as all the ghosts and townspeople.

Goblins: Oedipus, a Spontaneous Theatre Production, has almost finished its run. It plays Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 7 and 9:30 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets for these remaining performances are at a premium so it’s essential to book ahead.

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