Incest, fate and tragedy in Thatcher’s Britain: Manchester alumni’s theatre show gets a touch of Oedipus

By Alan Ross

Riots. Poverty. Bombing. Social decay.

Sound familiar?

These are some of the themes in a operatic portrayal of Greek tragedy Oedipus set in none other than Thatcher’s Britain, coming to Manchester next week.

Music Theatre Wales brings its acclaimed production of Steven Berkoff’s Greek to the Royal Northern College of Music on November 12 with Manchester University music graduate Marcus Farnsworth starring as Eddy; the Opera’s anti-hero.

The libretto is set in Thatcher’s Britain and based upon the Greek tragedy of Oedipus with the boozy Eddy unknowingly set to fulfil a fortune teller’s prediction.

Mr Farnsworth, who took singing lesson at Chetham’s School of Music when studying jazz piano and trumpet there, garnered praise for his performances as Eddy in 2011 with The Times critic saying that he gave one of the most convincing portrayals of Eddy that they had seen.

“Singing in an opera isn’t more or less difficult than giving a recital or singing an oratorio, but the challenges are different,” he told MM.

“It can be more demanding from a physical point of view, certainly. I suppose the reason that I find it so stimulating is that you have to combine so many different skills in order to be successful within the genre. You have to be convincing vocally, dramatically and physically in order for opera to work.”

The play, which was first performed in 1980, has shocked audiences since and  Mr Farnsworth believes that the story is as relevant now as it ever has been.

“The play by Berkoff that forms the basis of the opera’s libretto is a comment on the social and economic woes of the 1980’s, and when you look at the issues that we face in modern society there are an alarming number of similarities!,” he said.

Although some may be sceptical of an updated raunchily re-written Greek myth the star of the show has no such doubts.

“A good modern opera builds on the many fine works that have come before it,” he continued.

“Although their musical languages are very different to one another, I don’t think of the work I do in an opera by Mozart to be all that different to the work I do in a contemporary work. A good music-drama is a good music-drama.”

With a number of recitals and other performances in Europe Mr Farnsworth recognises how crucial his years spent in the North West were.

“Manchester was crucial to me in so many ways. I had two wonderful years at Chetham’s, some of the happiest of my entire education, and without the guidance I received there I would not be where I am today,” he said.

“I found that the city was the perfect place to be a young music student in that it’s big enough to sustain a number of important musical institutions and an international music scene, but not so large that you feel overwhelmed. As a result it provides a wonderful platform for creativity.” 

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