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Welcome to Thebes at the National Theatre (pre-World premier review)

Welcometothebes2010 Ooh I'm writing this before press night (tonight) which feels a little naughty. But I'm not the first, the West End Whingers have already tip-toed all over Moira Buffini's new play Welcome to Thebes with their usual wit and sharp observation (link at the end).

So. Welcome to Thebes is set in modern times - an African country ravaged by civil war takes its first tentative steps with a democratically elected Government. But it needs money to help it rebuild itself and it's Government invites the suave and smug leader of a rich nation in order to garner his financial support.

And this is where it goes all Greek mythology. The visiting leader is Theseus, first citizen of Athens. All the characters are similarly from Greek legend - a mixture of Greek legends that is. The new president of Thebes is Eurydice and Oedipus's daughters, Antigone and Ismene, are in there too, as is the aged-spouter of prophecies, Tiresius.

Eurydice is new to politics and determined to remain true to her vision of peace and reconciliation for Thebes. But she has to contend with in-fighting and the politics of international aid. She is also haunted by her own experiences of the civil war which cloud her judgement, leading to events which push Thebes back towards the brink of civil war and Theseus towards his helicopter home.

It is interesting at times, funny at times and harrowing a times as tales of war time atrocities are retold. But then there is the Greek mythology element. Some of it is cleverly weaved into the modern story while other bits just seem a bit too laboured and superfluous to the overall story (do we really need the Phedre/Hippolyta story retold via Theseus' mobile telephone conversations, for example?).

I'm no expert at the Greek legends. What I know, ironically, is from seeing plays like Oedipus and the aforementioned Phedre at the National in the past year so I'll freely admit there were bits that were lost on me.

It makes for a weird mix. I really liked the bits that focused on the modern story which had a sharp and at times witty and clever script. The Greek elements when they comfortably melded, worked well but when they didn't were like stones around the neck of the story, dragging it down. Which was a bit of a shame because the production is superb.

The set is the war ravaged remnants of a ministerial palace and there were some great effects for example when Theseus's party arrive by helicopter, the combined effects of sounds and wind machine are so convincing you can't but help looking up to see if you can see the helicopter.

There is some great acting from the fantastic David Harewood (Theseus) and Nikki Amuka-Bird (Eurydice). I also have to mention Tiresias played by Bruce Myers who did a superb job as the irritating old seer.

West End Whingers gave it three glasses of red out of five and if they were teachers writing a school report would have put, 'good attempt but could have done better', I imagine.

There are some nice production and rehearsal photos on the National Theatre website, together with a short trailer