In Ancient Greece the Gods were never fair or just.  They were fickle, impulsive, they needed to be propitiated.  And there were so many of them.  If you tried to appease one, the chances are you would upset another.  Human beings were just pawns in their interminable political struggles.  They controlled everything; they made people fall in love, made crops flourish, started wars, killed Kings, impregnated their women and inevitably made them take their own lives.   They were Gods of Rule and Misrule; so inconsistent, they always kept their subjects off balance.  Full of mirth and merriment one moment, they’d turn on a wrong word and cause devastation. 

In her new play, Moira Buffin neatly compares the chaos and destruction of Greek mythology to the more recent tyranny and upheaval in African states such as Liberia and Somalia where the power struggles of the warlords and their complete disregard for human life cause societies to collapse amid widespread massacre and torture. 

In modern Thebes, the people have elected a ruler, a woman, Euridyce, who has ended the civil war and introduced democracy and stability through the appointment of women to key cabinet posts, but  she needs the financial and military assistance of Athens and their powerful leader, Theseus, who is a politician with an eye for the main chance.  He first tries to seduce Euridyce and then when she doesn’t submit to his power lust makes to support her opponent, the warlord Prince Tydeus.  But Theseus is undermined by news of the death of his wife Phaedra and her seduction by his son Hippolytus and leaves in his helicopter.   Euridyce survives, perhaps a little wiser and less naive.   

Welcome to Thebes presents a curious juxtaposition of ancient and modern, but it works.  The themes of politics and war are timeless.  It’s all about personal power.  Ignorance is the enemy of democracy.   No matter how much a leader tries to be democratic, the people see it as weakness and will always vote for the charismatic strength of the tyrant.   But even the best leaders, if they survive, become tyrants.    

Welcome to Thebes is currently playing at The Olivier Theatre on the South Bank.  It has a large cast, mainly composed of talented but little known black actors, all wonderfully directed by Sir Richard Eyre.  It’s scary, awesome, and a must see.