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Never before performed or heard in the UK, Burgess’s Oedipus the King is a robust and powerful version of Sophocles’ classic text. The drama includes an invented language that Burgess created especially for the 1972 production of the piece at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, USA, which has been archived in the International Anthony Burgess Foundation archive. This broadcast will be the first time it has been spoken or heard in over forty years.

Christopher Eccleston, a keen Burgess fan, who used to run a market stall in the same area of Manchester that Burgess grew up in, stars as Oedipus; Don Warrington as Creon, Adjoa Andoh as Jocasta and Fiona Shaw as Tiresias, the ancient blind prophet who was born both man and woman.

The music was composed for the original theatre production by Obie Award-winning and Grammy Award-nominated composer of the show, Stanley Silverman. Stanley has worked with Arthur Miller, Pierre Boulez, James Taylor, Elton John, Sting and with legendary New York theatre maker Richard Foreman.
The BBC Philharmonic and Manchester-based Kantos Chamber Choir perform the music, conducted by Clark Rundell.

Oedipus starts the drama as a powerful king, who has risen from an impoverished newcomer to Thebes by freeing the land from the curse of the monstrous Sphinx, solving a seemingly simple yet impenetrable riddle. Over the course of the play his world unravels. A new blight is on the land and he is determined to rescue his people by rooting out the cause.

Oedipus is an iconic anti-hero, doomed from the outset to disaster, yet blithely storming ahead, oblivious to his own fate, convinced that he has managed to outwit fate. Burgess’s accessible, dynamic rendition of a classic story focuses on the contradictions and complexities of a proud man’s downfall:
“…Oedipus is the cause of the state’s disease and disruption but also, through his discovery of and expiation for sin, the cause of its recovered health. He is a criminal but also a saint. In other words he is a tragic hero…”

Part of Radio 3’s Burgess Centenary programming, marking 100 years since the birth of Manchester-born novelist and playwright Anthony Burgess.

Anthony Burgess is one of the best-known English literary figures of the latter half of the twentieth century. His dystopian satire A Clockwork Orange is his best-known novel. In 1971 it was adapted into a highly controversial film by Stanley Kubrick. Burgess produced numerous other novels, including the Enderby quartet, and Earthly Powers, regarded by most critics as his greatest novel. He wrote librettos and screenplays, including for the 1977 TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. He worked as a literary critic for several publications, including The Observer and The Guardian, and wrote studies of classic writers, notably James Joyce. A versatile linguist, Burgess lectured in phonetics, and translated Cyrano de Bergerac and the opera Carmen, among others. Burgess also composed over 250 musical works.

Co-producers Polly Thomas and Eloise Whitmore
Production Coordinator Sarah Kenny
Executive Producer Joby Waldman

Writer Anthony Burgess
Composer Stanley Silverman

Music performed by BBC Philharmonic and Kantos Chamber Choir, conducted by Clark Rundell.
With thanks to Andrew Biswell and the International Anthony Burgess Foundation.
A Naked Production for BBC Radio 3.

Photo: BBC Radio 3

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