Master Plan

8 August 2012 | 8:30 am | Sarah Braybrooke

Sarah Braybrooke gets inside the head of Matt Lutton to pull apart his latest play On The Misconception Of Oedipus.

“It's a great fear of mine, to not realise that I'm harming or hurting [someone] without realising. It's a fear of being destructive without realising you're being destructive.” Writer and director Matt Lutton is having an introspective moment as he explains the ideas behind his new play On The Misconception Of Oedipus. Lutton's production is a new take on the myth, one which reframes the story to highlight a specific question: to what extent can you know that you are inside of a tragedy when it is occurring?

To do this he chose a different place to begin the narrative. Traditionally, it starts with Oedipus as a grown man, being told that there's a plague on the city. He then looks in to his past, which is when the horrible truth comes out: he has unwittingly killed his father and married his mother. Lutton explains, “What we're looking at is a prequel to all those events. Mainly it looks at the parents.” He is fascinated by their decision to go ahead and have a child despite an oracle's warning that it would bring about their own destruction. “[On The Misconception Of Oedipus is] a look at 'What would you do if you were told that you were going to give birth to Oedipus?'”

If it sounds like the play is getting into some pretty intense psychological territory, that's intentional, as Lutton explains. The Oedipus myth has long been associated with the darkest depths of our psyches, thanks to a certain Austrian psychoanalyst. “You can't say 'Oedipus' without saying 'Freud', they're so linked.” At times the play, “Feel[s] like a group of people in therapy trying to analyse their own neuroses and desires and obsessions. It's like going to a counselling session, a group of people trying to work through the kind of traumas they've had.”

Group therapy and psychoanalysis might sound a far cry from the ancient world of gods, oracles, and prophesy occupied by the play's original characters. But Lutton thinks that their preoccupation with fate is something we still share – albeit in a way which takes more from the world view of Freud than that of Sophocles. “[There's still] an endless question of how we make the choices we make, and how much we are preconditioned or just following a path? Not because the gods have drawn it out for us, [but] because of society or psychology. In Sophocles's play, Oedipus went and asked the messengers to bring forth the shepherd to tell him who he was. Today, you'd just go to a psychiatrist.”

Lutton, who is still in his 20s but has an impressive artistic track record including a clutch of awards and a stint with the Australia Council for the Arts, has already staged several productions of Greek myths, most recently Strauss's Elektra with the West Australian Opera. Drawn to the cocktail of love, violence, transgression and transformation that the Greek myths contain, he says “Essentially I find them incredible stories, and stories that can be used endlessly to reflect and contemplate the world that we're living in today. This isn't a show about what the Greeks think about Oedipus. We use Oedipus for ourselves.”

On The Misconception Of Oedipus opens Friday 10 August and runs until Sunday 26 August, Malthouse.