This interesting new play is worth seeing. Its characters range from boy soldiers through politicians and generals to a wise prophet, as classical myth rubs up against contemporary realpolitik in a situation where ravaged and still troubled Thebes led by a mostly female government looks to wealthy Athens for help in peacetime. Now, there is dramatic conflict. Characters speak bluntly and lyrically: all have been brutalised in some way, most are hopeful, yet prejudices and vices simmer amidst the various stratagems for the future. It is serious stuff that gives room to wit and some music in the telling of its tale. The last time I saw the play's director, Richard Eyre, he was giving the inaugural Jocelyn Herbert lecture in honour of the late, distinguished designer, and sure enough here is a production whose set and costumes help make the spectacle. It is well written, it is well acted by a fine cast, the staging is spot-on. A few weeks on and stillthe play comes to mind several times a day, so vivid an experience was seeing it when I did. - El Peter
21 Aug 10
I can't be quite as harsh as David, but I too did not feel this came off. Some of the actors delivered their rather tedious lines with as much conviction as the proverbial reading of the telephone book. It looked good but the play was ground down by dialogue which grated rather than informed and by the time the interval had come I'd had enough which was such a pity when three quarters of the very large cast were black. How often do black actors get to hold the stage? That they had this turgid play to perform is a waste of their talents. Sure it has a resonance with modern Africa and I was not completely put off by the somewhat clumsy associations but, surely, the National needs to make more of an effort to find modern drama for black actors without resorting to these stereotypical characterisations. - rds
08 Aug 10
I must disagree with the other reviews.
I found the production pretentious, patronising, absolutely lacking any wit and quite dull.
I'm a regular theatre goer and have a classical education, so it is not from lack of intelligence that I dislike this play.
The play seems to have been conceived from the thought that 'oh, some Greek myth is a bit like Africa'. The play never gets further than that and merely attempts to entwine myth with a generic African war setting.
The dialogue is tiring, with an air of knowing condescension, and the acting is generally wooden, but with a script like this I can see why the actors struggle.
There are attempts at humour, but the jokes fall flat under the weight of the dead hand of pretension.
I have seen far better plays about Africa at the National, none of which tried to involve Greek tragedy for the writer's self-indulgence.
This mix does not work.
To see a blend of Greek myth and 'other' I would defer to Mighty Aphrodite by Woody Allen. Much though he might try, it never becomes 'up itself;, which is where Welcome to Thebes unfortunately resides.
Save your time and money and go to a good restaurant instead. - David
07 Aug 10
Welcome to Thebes is the sort of ambitious epic play which could only be staged at the National. A Greek tragedy transposed to present-day West Africa with a large ensemble and a vast stage design by Tim Hatley which produces a "wow factor" as soon as you enter the auditorium. Despite the updated setting and language Moira Buffini's adaptation of myths of Eurydice and Theseus retains the elements of ancient Greek tragedy, although the darkness was sometimes clumsily distorted by in-joke references: Theseus checking up on Phaedra and Hipolytus on his mobile; Oedipus being referred to as a motherf****r. Buffini and Richard Eyre just about manage to avoid labouring comparisons to the West and Afghanistan and produce a rich and compelling examination of a female President's attempts to introduce democracy to a war-torn state. Nikki Anuka-Bird is especially good as a brave but naive Eurydice and there are excellent performances throughout this flawed but deeply impressive production. - David Baxter
30 Jul 10
I’m going have to eat my ‘where are the new plays?’ and ‘the National can’t find good new plays’ words as this is a very good and very clever new play at the National! Playwright Moira Buffini has taken the Greek legends of Thebes and Athens and moved them to a present day African country coming out of violent civil war. The newly elected president Eurydice and her mostly female cabinet are trying to keep the warlords and their boy soldiers, led by Prince Tydeus, at bay. The ‘first citizen’ of wealthy neighbour Athens, which is providing peace-keepers, attends the presidential inauguration and reconstruction conference and the battle for his favours and the newly democratic country’s survival unfolds.
It’s surprising how well this all works and how well Buffini manages to walk the line between serious stuff about war and politics and entertaining drama. There’s some cracking dialogue – at one point someone refers to Antigone’s father Oedipus as ‘your mother-f**king father’ and, more chillingly, a boy soldier is told ‘ you’re old enough to kill but not old enough to vote’ – and the story is well paced. When he ran the NT, director Richard Eyre always knew how to use the Olivier stage well, and here he is again 12 years on doing it again. Tim Hatley has designed a very believable post-war setting and there’s great use of music, played live by a 5-piece band.
When a large black cast was last assembled on this stage for Death and The King’s Horseman, I remember the Time Out reviewer saying ‘if you’re a black actor and you aren’t in this, get a new agent’! This large and largely black ensemble is also excellent, led by Nikki Amuka-Bird (so good on TV recently in Small Island) who’s President is a combination of passion, dignity and naivety and the wonderful David Harewood following his TV Mandela and theatrical Martin Luther King playing Theseus, first citizen of Athens, as a seasoned manipulative politician. A good new play at the National – and in the Olivier too! - Gareth James
30 Jul 10
It's wonderful, and rare, to see an epic modern play on the Olivier stage. Moira Buffini's cracking script successfully marries Greek mythology with modern day politics, leavened by unexpected and outrageous humour. Richard Eyre's production is simply flawless, and is played out by a uniformly magnificent cast. Well worth seeing, I found myself haunted by this the day after seeing it. - ajh
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