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Review: Welcome To Thebes at the National Theatre

Published 4 July 2010

Compared to some, I can’t describe myself as an avid theatre goer (I particularly dislike musicals, a no-no for anyone wanting to call themselves a Londoner, I know), but being on an African-theatre-in-London mailing list has given me a bug when it comes to certain performances.

Welcome To Thebes at the National Theatre was one of those performances and it managed to surprise me in many ways, not least because my friend and guest for the evening said she enjoyed it (quite an unexpected feat given that she goes to the theatre even less than me).

Having read a quick snippet on the National Theatre homepage before booking tickets, I only knew that Welcome To Thebes would be a mixture of “Greek mythology and West-African politics”. West-African politics I can deal with as I happily grapple with it at university, but Greek mythology left me a little uncertain – I hoped that there would not be too much mythological language to confuse the plot. I needn’t have worried, as aside from Greek names for states – the dominant neighbours of Athens and worse still Sparta – and characters such as First Lady Eurydice or the power-hungry Prince Tydeus, the language of the play was English in a range of London dialects, sometimes poetry and sometimes prose, ensuring the play had a contemporary feel with a hint of the classics.

As the play’s writer, Moira Buffini has drawn on two interesting and seemingly contrasting sources of inspiration, using the story of Thebes as a rough template for the plot and merging it with the volatile history of Liberian political events, which include coups and a bloody civil war. Due to a twist in character, the leader of Thebes – Creon – is replaced by his wife Eurydice, mirroring the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the first elected female head of Liberia and of an African State. These women, like so many others throughout the world, are forced to negotiate the world and the political scene through the lens of the male ego and the maze of international relations, something which the script aptly portrays

Furthermore, whilst the play deals with some raw and horrific material concerning the aftermath of Civil War within a state (child soldiers, shattered infrastructure, the power vacuum that is often waiting to be filled etc.) the directing team did not fail to inject some humour into the scenes, particularly surrounding the preparations being made to welcome the influential head of neighbouring Athens; making the piece watchable even for those who know little about politics, African or otherwise. A final highlight for my friend and I was of course to start face-spotting, as many members of the cast seemed very familiar, not least of all Theseus (David Harewood, who has a host of theatre and television credits under his belt, as well as having taken a notable role in Blood Diamond as the leader of the child rebel soldiers.) Welcome To Thebes was harrowing, funny and definitely worth watching, avid theatre goer or not.

Welcome To Thebes runs at the National Theatre until August 18th, with discounts available with Travelex £10 tickets or the A Night Less Ordinary Scheme.

Performance Dates: 5th to 8th July, 26th to 29th July, 5th to 10th August, and 16th to 18th August.
Show times: 2:00pm or 7:30pm, depending on performance day.
Prices: £10, £15, £30. Discounts available for senior citizens (midweek shows), Disabled people, and under 26’s on the A Night Less Ordinary Scheme.

For more information and ticket booking, visit this page.