Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Welcome to Thebes

We've been helping the National to publicise this show. They asked us because of our interest in African theatre - although I'm not sure that Welcome to Thebes is African theatre so much as Western theatre about global concerns, including Africa. That, I suppose, makes it intercultural in a way, and even closer to our remit. What makes it distinctly not the sort of work we do is that, for all the African performers on the stage, the African voice is not present in the play. The writer, Moira Buffini, looks at Liberia (and other post-conflict zones) through Western eyes, as perhaps she must - and the framing is Greek mythology. This made it a very interesting piece for me to watch: Brian Woolland and I have been talking about another piece which might meld Greek myth with the realities of the contemporary world.

In the end, I'm not sure Buffini quite pulls it off - but it's a brave effort. The allusive quality of myth is helpful in making the play not specifically about a particular situation, although you can clearly see the figure of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in the new President of Thebes, Euridyce, and casting David Harewood as Theseus, the First Citizen of "democratic" Athens brings Obama to mind (even though the character is more like Bill Clinton). But the names, the presence of figures like Antigone and Tiresias, seem to pull the play into the philosophy of tragic destiny, and to deny the possibility of the change which the central character is attempting to create. Perhaps this is a dramatic tension, or perhaps it is a flaw. I can't really decide. But I know it's interesting.

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