Welcome to Thebes – Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Writer: Moria Buffini

Director: Lucy Pitman-Wallace

Reviewer: Julia Beasley

Thebes is a city in central Greece that once played an important role in the ancient world. The home of many myths and legends, the ancient city rivalled Athens, sided in battle with the Spartans, and was finally destroyed by Alexander the Great around 2,500 years ago.

You don’t have to ponder ancient Greek history to enjoy Welcome to Thebes, but it is tempting to try. After all, Moria Buffini’s play about a fledgeling democracy set in the near future is packed full of references to the classical world. 

The first democratic president of Thebes, Eurydice, declares that war is over and Thebes must be now be rebuilt.  (In ancient Greece Eurydice was married to Orpheus, who tried to bring her back from the dead with his enchanting music).

To save her country Eurydice needs the financial backing of Theseus, leader of Athens (who was the mythical king and founder-hero of ancient Athens). Will democracy triumph in this militaristic dystopian state?

Eurydice then refuses to sanction the burial of a personal enemy,  and the moral high ground is snatched up by Antigone. (This is a reference to Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone. The daughter of Oedipus,  Antigone was a heroine who insisted on securing her dead brother a decent burial.  For speaking out she was condemned to be buried alive.)

Confused? You might well be. Under Lucy Pitman-Wallace’s direction, the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School execute a spirited performance of a play that premiered in London’s National Theatre. But there’s a lot happening on stage at any one time, and the attempt to weave together modern military politics with ancient myths ends up with a lumpen patchwork quilt.

The audience can choose between trying to mug up on the classical references or just ignoring them. Either way, the result is baffling and perplexing, with references to the ancient world failing to contextualise the modern body politic.

Thebes was also the name of a city in ancient Egypt, but this probably has nothing to do with the play either. Let’s not go there….

Runs until 30 June 2018 | Image: Contributed

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War no more

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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