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06 August 2010

Welcome to Thebes (2)

I went to see Welcome to Thebes for the second time last night. I enjoyed it even more, but in an interestingly different way. All through the first half I found I had tears in my eyes as I fought back the knowledge of what was going to happen in the second half. And of course there were things I saw that I had not quite seen the first time around like, ironically, and as if to prove I'm an idiot, the importance of blindness as a motif.

Before this visit I'd read a few reviews. They generally aren't very good (ie well argued and written) even when they're very good (ie favourable).

The worst I saw was Charles Spencer in the TelegraphHere's the worst paragraph:

There are some wearying “comic” touches, in which an armed militia threaten the audience with automatic weapons to persuade us to turn off our mobile phones, and a manifest determination to give most of the male characters a good kick in the groin, the hallmark of so many feminist writers. Ignoring the evidence of say, Medea and Winnie Mandela, Buffini gives the impression that she believes both ancient Greece and modern Africa would be heaven on earth if only the pesky chaps hadn’t ruined it all.

The simplistic level of that understanding says more about his insecurities than the play, which isn't at all straightforward in its sexual politics. Or its political politics either.

No, actually, this is the worst paragraph, the last one:

One leaves the theatre reflecting that ancient myths still have much to tell us about our own troubled times. 

To which the only reply is "Yes - and?"

Michael Billington, in the Guardian, regrets that "much as I love the scope and ambition of Buffini's play, there runs through it an unresolved contradiction between free will and fate." This thought pervades his review. It's reminiscent of Graham Taylor's football punditry: he has one idea and everything else will demonstrate the relevance, the keystone importance, of this idea. There's a lot more going on than this, and besides, what's wrong with unresolved contradictions?

OK, both men had space limits, but both fail to convey the real complexity of the play.

But the question I'm asking myself is, should a play reveal itself completely in one viewing? It's a more difficult question than I thought, and I'll probably come back to it in the literature blog, which is looking a bit neglected lately. Of course my answer is likely to be that you shouldn't need  to see a play more than once, but you should want to.

3 comments :

Andrew H said...

Your first entry tempted me to suggest my daughter saw this and this entry means I shall sugegst it. But how much will a almost total lack of knowledge of Greek myth on her part make it harder work for a bright 16 year old?

Brian said...

The audience reaction was overwhelmingly good and I don't suppose that many people know much about Greek myths and drama. Probably helpful to know the Oedipus story (look on Wikipedia for Sophocles' Theban Plays), the Furies/Erinyes, and the story of Theseus/Phaedra/Hippolytus. Also, something about the recent history of Liberia and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (though I didn't know anything about that until after I'd seen the play).

Andrew said...

Thanks for this - she settled for seeing The Habit Of Art instead; just cos it says Alan Bennett on the tin ......