Sydney performance group post have been creating waves in Sydney in recent years. The three members (ZoС Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose) have performed at almost every major theatre company in Sydney and have made work about everything from the Global Financial Crisis to deciding which member of Post is the best. For Sydney Festival, post are returning to Belvoir to present Oedipus Schmoedipus, a democratic theatrical extravaganza which takes the death scenes from several hundred of the most famous plays of all time and presents them using a chorus of unrehearsed volunteers.
Post began the process of Oedipus Schmoedipus looking to make something different. “Our last show Who’s the Best? was all about ourselves,” says Grigor. “We spent like a year talking to each other about ourselves in intimate detail; that felt like an incredibly narcissistic endeavour and we wanted to do something completely different after that, we wanted to do something about a really big topic, so we decided to do a show about death.”
While working on Who’s the Best?, post found themselves engaged with a more traditional theatre conversation, sparking them to link the idea of death with the Western theatrical canon. “When something is part of the canon there’s this reverence, there’s this sense that these things are universal,” says Coombs Marr. “How can they possibly be universal when they’re all written by the same guy, they’re all written by white men?” This common idea that these plays are universal is one of the things that post want to challenge. “Death is the only thing that is universal,” says Grigor, “but these plays claim to be universal. So we decided to look at the actual universal through the lens of something that claims to be.”
Post then began the long and rigorous process of trawling through these plays to find any reference to death, creating huge spreadsheets of quotes and categorising them according to different systems. “Once we started looking at these plays we kind of hit up against a brick wall,” says Grigor. “How can we actually speak these words? As performers and makers we make our own work, we speak our own words, and we felt kind of uncomfortable [speaking the words of the canon]. It was an interesting problem for us. Because in a way, it’s the whole thing that we don’t want to speak, it’s the whole institution that we’ve turned away from. So we decided to invite guests to speak the words of the canon. For us, doing that kind of duplicates the process of being handed these texts as though they’re absolutely integral to our culture.”
This idea of guests speaking the lines has become a large part of Oedipus. Over the course of the season, post will work with over 7000 volunteers. Each night a different group of volunteers will take to the stage and perform without prior rehearsal. The volunteers were found through an open call out and anyone who applied could take part with no previous performance experience required.
Despite all this talk of death, the show also promises the keen wit we have come to expect from the post girls. “Sometimes all this talk makes it sound really serious. It’s very silly. The fact that we are outside of [the traditional theatre] world means that we don’t have much reverence for it, we don’t hold the texts on high, we sort of rip everything apart and poke fun of it.”