At once both classical and immediate, Moira Buffini’s new play, Welcome To Thebes, is a shining example of what the National Theatre does best. The fact that this epic play, with a large cast and impressive staging features as part of the £10 Travelex season, also show what can be done with an imaginative take on arts funding.
Taking classic Greek drama and transposing them into a modern, unnamed African country, Buffini cleverly intertwines both ancient and modern into a potent reflection on current world troubles.
President of Thebes Eurydice is desperate for an alliance with the mighty state of Athens to shore up her infant government. Athens’ First Citizen Theseus is aware of the kudos and opportunities an alliance, although unequal, will provide. Add in some civil unrest, power games and political infighting and the resultant drama could easily feature in an episode of the West Wing.
Director Richard Eyre returns triumphantly to the Oliver stage, showing a masterly use of its vast space. Aided by Tim Hately’s glorious war damaged set, Eyre builds up the tension of a country teetering on the edge of social breakdown. Although knowledge of Greek Tragedy helps pick up some of the numerous references and in jokes this is by no means a pre-requisite. The script combines enough references to the classical texts to keep those familiar with the historical plays on their toes while also injecting enough humor into the ever growing angst to make this utterly watchable for a wide audience.
As the posturing leaders Eurydice and Theseus Nikki Amuka-Bird and David Harewood give strong lead to a uniformly impressive ensemble who bring to life this vivid world.
Welcome To Thebes works on many levels; as an introduction to the Greek classical texts but perhaps more importantly a reflection on today’s world political posturing. Brown, Blair, Cameron and Obama should book their tickets now.