at the Olivier Theatre, Wednesday 18th August 2010
Sceptics often question why we return to classic stories from history time and time again. They say that they do not have much relevance in the modern world and seem out-of-date. In Welcome To Thebes, Moira Buffini shows us that these arguments are unfounded and that legends, after a little modernisation, reflect the extremes of human action acutely. Richard Eyre’s powerful production shows the relationship between power and democracy, between war and peace.
Euridice (Nikki Amuka-Bird), has just been elected by the Thebans following a crippling war, leaving her to cope with famine along with her female-heavy cabinet ministers. Theseus (David Harwood) arrives from Athens to try to make deals with Euridice, but isn’t trusted by many in Thebes. His tyrannical way of ruling goes against the supposed democracy of those living in Thebes, and he causes much grief during his stay.
Buffini brings the familiar tale into the 21st Century by transposing the events into a nondescript African nation. Parallels are drawn with the Liberia of Charles Taylor, ruled without pity. The ongoing debate between the people of Athens and the people of Thebes, where those of the former aren’t prepared to give aid to the latter, mirrors the conversations which we must assume occur between various nations all over the world. Peace is far more fragile than war, and under ‘weak’ leadership it is even more likely to fall to chaos.
Amuka-Bird leads the ensemble with confidence, portraying a strong Euridice who, like any human, simply can’t cope with the pressure she is put under, especially with various familial problems. Harewood as the powerful Theseus is volatile, being pushed to breaking points at many times over the course of his stay in Thebes. Chuck Iwuji as the once-admired Prince Tydeus is a man slowly falling from grace, and Rakie Ayola as his wife Pargeia is perhaps the strongest woman in the play, although with amoral intentions. Performances are involved across the board, injecting into the play the passion it requires.
Tim Hatley’s design, the courtyard of a Grecian palace, is strangely beautiful, held in a state of limbo after the war, and is lit with tenderness by Neil Austin. Stephen Warbeck’s music is largely influenced by tribal rhythms, but slows down at times to soaring ballads, enhancing the journey we are taken on by the plot.
At times this production can seem to lack focus, being set in a hybrid world, but this largely adds to the disorder of the rest of the play. Buffini’s script never soars too much but stays down to earth, and Eyre manages to pull out some truly electrifying moments. Welcome To Thebes shows that ancient myths and legends still have a place in the modern world. Some argue that extremes found in Greek tragedy do not happen in real life. They are wrong.