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The Pajama Game at the Shaftesbury Theatre

March 17, 2014 

Richard Eyre brings his hugely successful Chichester production of The Pajama Game into London’s Shaftesbury Theatre starring Joanna Riding and Michael Xavier.

Following a crowd-pleasing run at the Chichester Festival Theatre, this sparkling production of the much-loved Broadway hit The Pajama Game is now playing at the Shaftesbury Theatre for a limited run.

Richard Eyre’s blissful production stars two-time Olivier Award winning actress Joanna Riding as the feisty heroine and Michael Xavier as her love interest. The show also stars Gary Wilmot as Vernon Hines and Colin Stinton as Hasler.

A fabulous score includes hit songs Hey There (You With The Stars In Your Eyes), Hernando’s Hideaway and Steam Heat.

The Pajama Game features words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and a book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell. This production is directed by Richard Eyre, with choreography by Stephen Mear and design by Tim Hatley.

THE STORY

In 1950s America, love is in the air at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory as handsome new Superintendent Sid Sorokin (Michael Xavier) falls head-over-heels for firebrand Union rep Babe Williams (Joanna Riding). Sparks fly when the employees are refused a seven-and-a-half cents raise, leaving Sid and Babe deliciously at odds as the temperature rises… Will love, eventually, conquer all?

THE CAST

Joanna Riding (Babe Williams), Michael Xavier (Sid Sorokin),  Gary Wilmot (Vernon Hines), Alexis Owen Hobbs (Gladys), Claire Machin (Mabel), Colin Stinton (Hasler / Pop), Eugene McCoy (Prez), Siôn Lloyd (Max), Jennie Dale (Mae), Sharon Wattis (Poopsie), Keisha Amponsa Banson (Brenda), Lauren Varnham (Charlene), Jo Morris (Rita), Nolan Frederick (Charley), Richard Jones (Frank), Dan Burton (Earl) and James O’Connell (Joe).

REVIEWS

★★★★★ “Pure pleasure… Richard Eyre does it again” (Telegraph)
★★★★★ “Richard Eyre’s joyous production of this 1954 show has an exuberance comparable to that of his National Theatre Guys and Dolls” (The Guardian)

 

Shrek The Musical to close at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London

September 3, 2012 

Charlie and The Chocolate Factory to replace Shrek at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

The producers of Shrek The Musical have announced that the show is to close at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London on 24 February 2013. The show opened at Drury Lane on 14 June 2011.

Shrek The Musical to close at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Shrek The Musical to close at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Based on the hit movie franchise, the London production was deemed to be the best production so far following a short and costly Broadway run in 2009. The show is expected to go on a UK tour in 2014.

Shrek producer Bill Damaschke, who is Chief Creative Officer for DreamWorks Animation, said that, “it is not without sadness that we have decided to leave next year”. DreamWorks plans to bring its productions of Madagascar Live!, and How To Train Your Dragon to the UK in 2013.

Sam Mendes and Caro Newling of Neal Street Productions, who manage the production in the UK, will now produce Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the venue next year, directed by Mendes. They have been searching for a large-enough home for the musical for a number of months, with the Theatre Royal Drury Lane always top of the list.

Shrek The Musical has book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, music by Jeanine Tesori and is based on William Steig’s book and the DreamWorks animated movies. Direction is by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford, with designs & costumes by Tim Hatley.

The show currently stars Dean Chisnall as Shrek, Neil McDermott as Lord Farquaad, Carley Stenson as Princess Fiona and Richard Blackwood as Donkey.

LINKS

Book tickets to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

More news on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane 

Book tickets to Shrek The Musical at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

 

Betty Blue Eyes – Review

April 14, 2011 

A review of Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre in London

Sarah Lancashire as Joyce in Betty Blue Eyes. Photo: Roy Tan

Sarah Lancashire as Joyce in Betty Blue Eyes. Photo: Roy Tan

BETTY BLUE EYES 

A little bit of austerity joy has sprung up at the Novello Theatre where Cameron Mackintosh’s latest West End venture, Betty Blue Eyes, based on Malcolm Mowbray’s 1984 film A Private Function, has started a squealingly good run.

Set in a small Yorkshire town just after the Second World War, when austerity and food rationing is starting to bite hard, a group of local dignitaries plan to raise and slaughter an illegal pig for an exclusive, private function to celebrate the impending wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Phillip.

Alongside this runs the story of timid chiropodist Gilbert (Reece Shearsmith) and his social-climbing wife Joyce (Sarah Lancashire), who are thwarted in their efforts to get a foothold on the town’s social ladder and decide to steal the pig as an act of revenge (and hunger!).

Given the peculiarly British subject matter and source material, Mackintosh has clearly taken a gamble in hiring US screenwriters Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman to pen the book of the show, particularly as it’s their first musical. However, having a bit of distance from a subject is not a bad thing and they’ve written some pacey, witty dialogue that captures the spirit of the times without paying undue reverence to the movie.

But it’s the musical numbers by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe that go much further than the book in rounding out the themes of the show, without ever losing sight of the “let’s have fun” element which is writ large throughout this production.

Betty Blue Eyes is the most tuneful, humorous and inventive original score we’ve heard in the West End for some time, with a number of songs guaranteed to be around forever. Cameron Mackintosh has championed Stiles & Drewe for decades and they have enjoyed notable success but never a big West End production to truly call their own. Mackintosh had to step up to the plate at some point, and he’s done so with a show that will, finally, put this writing duo firmly on the international map of Class A theatre composers.

There is also no doubt that Alan Bennett’s screenplay for A Private Function, written with the movie’s director Malcolm Mowbray, is a major factor in the night’s success. Whilst the film was a little too depressing to be jolly good farce and too much like comedy to be a decent observation of post-war Britain, it was carried by Bennett’s beautifully observed characters – and the performances of Maggie Smith, Michael Palin, Denholm Elliot et al.

Much of the success of Richard Eyre’s production is based on the same factors. An animatronics pig may be the title lead of Betty Blue Eyes (given the rumoured expense of the pig, it was strangely unanimated, with stellar facial gestures but nothing that a good Jim Henson puppet couldn’t have achieved), but the real leads act Betty off the stage.

Sarah Lancashire in the role of Joyce Chivers is as close to a musical theatre revelation as you are likely to get, and plays her like she has been at the epicentre of musical theatre life in Britain for the last thirty years. There’s no question that the song of the night is “Nobody”, which she delivers with a fierce gusto that will be sung back to Cameron Mackintosh by thousands of auditioning gals for decades to come.

Lancashire plays Joyce much warmer than Maggie Smith, which in some ways highlights the tonal difference between the show and the film. Anyone who can play a sexy, house-proud Northern matriarch whilst singing big, show-stopping numbers, all the while adding an emotional heart, a dry wit and a beautifully composed showbiz smile, gets my vote!

Reece Shearsmith in Betty Blue Eyes. Photo: Roy Tan

Reece Shearsmith in Betty Blue Eyes. Photo: Roy Tan

The League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith puts in a surprisingly emotive and convincing performance as Gilbert, presumably honed from years of playing it straight in macabre (or farcical) surrounds, and whilst he is not an obvious song and dance man, he makes Gilbert his own.

Adrian Scarborough doesn’t have a lot of room for manoeuvre with Wormwold, the government food inspector who, in true ‘Allo ‘Allo! style, is not only dressed as the Gestapo, but continually referred to as the Gestapo, taking the show more in the direction of Panto through no fault of his own. His big number, Painting By Heart, which reveals his passion for his work – and the painting of illegal meat to render it inedible – seems to come too early, and we need to see more of his evil ways before he can lighten up and show us his passionate side.

Also, painting Wormwold as the evil villain takes some of the meanness away from the town’s elite, reinforced by turning Allardyce (a lovely performance by Jack Edwards) into a warm and cuddly “pigophile” and Dr Swayby, played by David Bamber, as a rather one-dimensional bigot (his anti-Semitic remarks may have been historically accurate, but don’t fit well in a show that presents itself as nothing less than a joyous romp through the post-war years). All of this slightly undermines what’s at the story’s heart: that British class meant that not everyone was living in austere times.

Richard Eyre has put together a fine, National Theatre-quality supporting cast, notably Ann Emery as Mother Dear. It could have just have been me, but there felt like a subtle nod to Les Miserables in a number of scenes, perhaps some light Cameron Mackintosh ribbing by the creative team, with barricades stormed by headscarf-clad matriarchs through Stephen Mear’s quirky and inventive choreography.

Design by Tim Hatley ensures that the show keeps momentum, beautifully set against a cartoon-like blue sky and green hills.

For Mackintosh, Betty Blue Eyes must feel like a small, austerity production. The Novello is not quite a tiny, converted chocolate factory in South London, but for a producer more used to enormous productions that go global, Betty Blue Eyes must feel small-scale. However, Mackintosh is a canny producer, not only for capitalising on our current austerity and impending Royal wedding, but in creating a show that can tour to any sized venue in Britain, filling gaps in Arts funding-cut theatres nationwide, and a production that can be played out in village halls for the next fifty years.

PAUL RAVEN

LINKS

Book tickets to Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre in London

More News on Betty Blue Eyes

Betty Blue Eyes photos

First Look Photos: Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre

April 4, 2011 

Exclusive photos of new Cameron Mackintosh musical Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre in London

Reece Shearsmith and Betty in Betty Blue Eyes

Reece Shearsmith and Betty in Betty Blue Eyes

Cameron Mackintosh’s latest stage production is a joyous new musical based on Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray’s acclaimed screenplay A Private Function.

Betty Blue Eyes, currently in previews at the Novello Theatre, stars multi-talented actress Sarah Lancashire and The League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith as formidable social climber Joyce Chilvers and her downtrodden husband Gilbert, played in the film by Maggie Smith and Michael Palin.

They join a talented cast including Olivier Award winner Adrian Scarborough (After the Dance, Gavin & Stacey) as Wormold, David Bamber (My Night With Reg) as Swaby, Ann Emery (Billy Elliot) as Mother Dear, Jack Edwards as Allardyce, Mark Meadows as Lockwood… and a rather talented animatronic pig called Betty!

Betty Blue Eyes is directed by the award-winning Richard Eyre and penned by George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics), with a book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman.

LINKS

Book tickets to Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre in London

More news on Betty Blue Eyes

REECE SHEARSMITH in Betty Blue Eyes

January 31, 2011 

The League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith in Betty Blue Eyes.

Reece ShearsmithReece Shearsmith usually does the scaring rather than being scared: his recent work in Ghost Stories at the Duke of York’s Theatre and as part of The League of Gentlemen, have often left audiences feeling very unnerved.

But in Betty Blue Eyes, Cameron Mackintosh’s latest stage musical, he is the one scared to death – by a formidable wife!

Shearsmith plays hen-pecked, down-trodden husband Gilbert Chilvers, whose wife Joyce (played by Sarah Lancashire) is a social climber who will stop at nothing within their small Yorkshire village. Set just after the Second World War, when the locals of the village want to celebrate the forthcoming Royal wedding, post-war rationing prompts them to illegally raise a pig for the event. But Gilbert and Joyce have their own ideas for the animal – a plan that throws the village into chaos.

The show is based on Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray’s acclaimed screenplay A Private Function, with husband and wife famously played by Michael Palin and Maggie Smith.

Reece Shearsmith has built up an impressive list of stage credits alongside his TV and movie work, including Comedians at the Lyric Hammersmith, The Common Pursuit (Menier Chocolate Factory), The Producers (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), As You Like It (Wyndham’s Theatre) and Art (Whitehall Theatre), as well as The League of Gentlemen shows at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and on national tour.

Reece’s TV work includes the biopic of Morecambe and Wise, scary and twistedly funny series Psychoville and, of course, The League of Gentleman. Film includes Burke and Hare, The Cottage, The League of Gentleman’s Apocalypse, Shaun of the Dead and This Year’s Love.

Produced by Cameron Mackintosh, Betty Blue Eyes opens at the Novello Theatre from 19 March 2011, directed by Richard Eyre and penned by George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics), with a book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman. The show also stars Sarah Lancashire (Coronation Street, Clocking Off) as Joyce Chilvers, Adrian Scarborough (After the Dance, Gavin & Stacey) as Wormold, David Bamber (My Night With Reg) as Swaby, Ann Emery (Billy Elliot) as Mother Dear, Jack Edwards as Allardyce and Mark Meadows as Lockwood.

LINKS

Book tickets to Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre in London

Interview with Betty Blue Eyes composers Stiles & Drewe

SARAH LANCASHIRE in Betty Blue Eyes

January 31, 2011 

Sarah Lancashire takes on Maggie Smith’s role in the new stage musical Betty Blue Eyes.

Sarah LancashireCameron Mackintosh’s latest stage musical, Betty Blue Eyes, is based on Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray’s acclaimed screenplay A Private Function. In the film Maggie Smith played the formidable Joyce Chilvers, a role that accomplished TV star Sarah Lancashire will take on in the new stage production when it opens at the Novello Theatre from 19 March 2011.

Sarah trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and is best known for her TV work, including playing Raquel in Coronation Street, All The Small Things, Dr Who, Clocking Off, Cherished, Fiver Daughters, Murder Most Horrid, Where The Heart Is, Rose and Maloney, Wurthering Heights, Seeing Red and The Cry.

Her stage work includes playing Miss Adelaide in the Donmar’s production of Guys and Dolls at the Piccadilly theatre, Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors at the Oldham Coliseum and Linda in Blood Brothers at the Albery (now the Noel Coward) Theatre.

Produced by Cameron Mackintosh, Betty Blue Eyes is directed by Richard Eyre and penned by George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics), with a book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman. The show also stars Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen) as Gilbert, Adrian Scarborough (After the Dance, Gavin & Stacey) as Wormold, David Bamber (My Night With Reg) as Swaby, Ann Emery (Billy Elliot) as Mother Dear, Jack Edwards as Allardyce and Mark Meadows as Lockwood.

The story is set in a small Yorkshire village just after the Second World War. When the locals want to celebrate the forthcoming Royal wedding, post-war rationing prompts them to illegally raise a pig for the event. But social climber Joyce (Lancashire) and her down-trodden husband Gilbert (Shearsmith) plot a scheme of their own that throws the village into chaos.

LINKS

Book tickets to Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre in London

Interview with Betty Blue Eyes composers Stiles & Drewe

Betty Blue Eyes opens bookings

December 1, 2010 

Booking has opened for new Cameron Mackintosh musical Betty Blue Eyes, coming into the West End this Spring.

Stars of Betty Blue Eyes Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith

Stars of Betty Blue Eyes Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith

The new show, which is based on Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray’s acclaimed screenplay A Private Function, has been penned by Mackintosh protégées George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics), with a book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman.

Richard Eyre will direct the show, which previews from 19 March 2011 at the Novello Theatre.

The musical is a move back to new work for the Les Miserables producer, whose recent projects have been revivals of hit shows such as Mary Poppins and Oliver!, or transfers of Broadway shows Avenue Q and Hair. “Betty Blue Eyes is my first original musical in over ten years”, said Mackintosh. “As a long-time admirer of Alan Bennett’s wickedly funny screenplay for the film A Private Function, I immediately fell in love with this infectious and delicious musical treatment which has expanded on the original”.

The show will see Sarah Lancashire (Coronation Street, Seeing Red) as Joyce Chilvers, played in the 1984 movie by Maggie Smith. Lancashire will be returning to the West End after her brief appearance in Guys & Dolls in 2005. Her hen-pecked husband in the show, Gilbert, will be played by Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen).

The story is set in a small Yorkshire village just after the Second World War. When the locals want to celebrate the forthcoming Royal wedding of Elizabeth and Philip, post-war rationing prompts them to illegally raise a pig for the event. But social climber Joyce (Lancashire) and her down-trodden husband Gilbert (Shearsmith) plot a scheme of their own that throws the village into chaos.

The show’s opening will coincide with the forthcoming April marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Other casting includes Adrian Scarborough (After the Dance, Gavin & Stacey) as Wormold, David Bamber (My Night With Reg) as Swaby, Ann Emery (Billy Elliot) as Mother Dear, Jack Edwards as Allardyce and Mark Meadows as Lockwood.

The story is set in a small Yorkshire village just after the Second World War. When the locals want to celebrate the forthcoming Royal wedding, post-war rationing prompts them to illegally raise a pig for the event. But social climber Joyce (Lancashire) and her down-trodden husband Gilbert (Shearsmith) plot a scheme of their own that throws the village into chaos.

The show’s musical director is Richard Beadle, with musical staging by Stephen Mear, design by Tim Hatley, lighting by Neil Austin, sound by Mick Potter, musical supervision by Stephen Brooker and orchestrations by William David Brohn.

Ahead of Betty Blue Eyes, director Richard Eyre will direct Tom Hollander in a new production of Feydeau’s farce A Flea in her Ear at the Old Vic Theatre from 4 December.

Onassis is currently playing at the Novello Theatre starring Robert Lindsay, and is currently booking until 8 January 2011.

Read an interview with George Stiles and Anthony Drewe

Book tickets to Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre in London

Nigels Lindsay and Harman join Shrek

September 6, 2010 

Producers of the big-budget new production of Shrek The Musical, which is in pre-production for its West End launch in June 2011, have announced two further additions to the cast.

Shrek The Musical

Shrek The Musical

Nigel Lindsay will play the title role of Shrek in the much-anticipated West End stage production of the hit DreamWorks movie. Lindsay’s credits include movie Four Lions , the original National Theatre production of Dealer’s Choice and Nathan Detroit in Michael Grandage’s 1995 production of Guys and Dolls at the Piccadilly Theatre.

Another Nigel, TV and stage star Nigel Harman, has been cast as Lord Farquaad. Best known for playing Dennis in EastEnders, his numerous stage credits include Sky Masterson alongside Nigel Lindsay in Guys and Dolls, Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, Three Days of Rain at the Apollo Theatre and True West at the Sheffield Crucible.

They will join Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden as Princess Fiona and Richard Blackwood as the Donkey.

The forthcoming DreamWorks production of Shrek The Musical®, based on the Oscar-winning film, opens at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London on 7 June 2011.

Shrek The Musical originally opened on Broadway in December 2008 and was nominated for eight Tony Awards. It closed in January this year after a relatively short run, although is now on a major tour of the USA. A number of changes have been made to the touring – and forthcoming London version – of the show, including a new opening, new songs, improved magic and illusions, a newly styled dragon and more emphasis on giving the show “heart”.

The London stage musical is based on the irreverent fairy tale from William Steig’s book Shrek and the Oscar-winning DreamWorks Animation film. The creative team includes directors Jason Moore (Avenue Q) and Rob Ashford (Promises, Promises), with book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire, music by Olivier Award winner Jeanine Tesori, scenic, costume and puppet design by Tim Hatley, lighting by Hugh Vanstone, sound design by Peter Hylenski and choreography by Josh Prince.

The show is the first stage venture for DreamWorks Animation’s theatrical arm and was originally initiated as a project by award-winning director Sam Mendes. The musical will be produced in London by DreamWorks Theatricals’ Bill Damaschke and Mendes’ Neal Street Productions under Caro Newling.

Drury Lane is currently home to Oliver!, which will close at the theatre on 8 January 2011.

Book tickets to SHREK THE MUSICAL at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Amanda Holden to star in Shrek

July 30, 2010 

Britain’s Got Talent judge to star as Princess Fiona in new stage adaptation of Shrek

Amanda Holden

Amanda Holden to play Princess Fiona in Shrek

Amanda Holden, the TV and stage actress and judge on ITV’s variety show Britain’s Got Talent, has secured a lead role in the forthcoming DreamWorks production of Shrek The Musical®, based on the Oscar-winning film.

Playing Princess Fiona, the down-to-earth and independent heroine of the show, Shrek The Musical opens at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London on 7 June 2011.

Holden has a theatrical background, having trained at Mountview Theatre School and appeared in stage roles including Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Mille at the Shaftsbury Theatre and Liesl Von Trapp in a touring production of The Sound of Music. Her numerous TV credits include Suspicious Circumstances opposite Edward Woodward, Eastenders, Mel in Kiss Me Kate, The Grimleys, Wild At Heart, Cutting It  and Big Top.

Shrek The Musical originally opened on Broadway in December 2008 and was nominated for eight Tony Awards. It closed in January this year after a relatively short run, although is now on a major tour of the USA. A number of changes have been made to the touring – and forthcoming London version – of the show, including a new opening, new songs, improved magic and illusions, a newly styled dragon and more emphasis on giving the show “heart”.

This has been confirmed by reviews of the US touring show, which opened this month at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago starring Eric Petersen. The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones said that the show had, “finally discovered a human scale. Or, to put it another way, “Shrek the Musical” has belatedly found more of a heart”.

Richard Blackwood

Richard Blackwood to play Donkey

Other casting confirmed for the London production includes Richard Blackwood, who will play the Donkey. Blackwood is a comedian, singer and TV and radio presenter and is also step-brother to model Naomi Campbell. Recent stage appearances include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Novello Theatre alongside James Earl Jones and Adrian Lester.

The London stage musical is based on the irreverent fairy tale from William Steig’s book Shrek and the Oscar-winning Dreamworks Animation film. The creative team includes directors Jason Moore (Avenue Q) and Rob Ashford (Promises, Promises), with book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire, music by Olivier Award winner Jeanine Tesori, scenic, costume and puppet design by Tim Hatley, lighting by Hugh Vanstone, sound design by Peter Hylenski and choreography by Josh Prince.

The show is the first stage venture for DreamWorks Animation’s theatrical arm and was originally initiated as a project by award-winning director Sam Mendes. The musical will be produced in London by DreamWorks Theatricals’ Bill Damaschke and Mendes’ Neal Street Productions under Caro Newling.

Neal Street Productions is also behind a number of high-profile new London theatre projects including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Official casting information will be released soon. Drury Lane is currently home to Oliver!, which will close at the theatre on 8 January 2011.

Book tickets to SHREK THE MUSICAL at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Welcome to Thebes – Review

July 26, 2010 

Interesting that on the two occasions the Olivier Theatre has played host to new plays by women writers, both should tackle ambitious subjects and, understandably, prominently feature women.

Welcome to ThebesRebecca Lenkiewicz’s Her Naked Skin (2008) dramatised the trials and tribulations of the militant suffragette movement in 1913, and in Welcome to Thebes, Moira Buffini connects the dots between contemporary politics and Greek tragedy.

The ambiguous question she leaves dangling and unanswered is how much of what happens to us is preordained by an implacable fate or man-made.

Though the play is set in the 21st century in an African city she calls Thebes, the situation is clearly inspired by recent events in Liberia and the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who founded a women’s peace movement, and who. after suffering political exile, became Africa’s first elected female president.

In Buffini’s modern take on Sophocles’ Antigone, Thebes’ newly elected leader is called Eurydice (Nikki Amuka-Bird), who, in the aftermath of a bloody civil war, turns to powerful Athens (read America) to help her establish a new democracy.

The leader of this super-power is Theseus (David Harewood), a cocksure clump of testosterone whose tunnel vision sees no further than the profit to be derived from such an alliance.

The arranged summit meeting, heralded by the arrival of a helicopter carrying Theseus and his delegates, is, however, compromised by Prince Tydeus (Chuck Iwuji), the leader of the opposition, who sabotages Eurydice’s plans by belabouring the shocking fact that Eurydice refuses to allow the rotting corpse of her vanquished warlord brother Polynices, to be buried, thereby perpetuating a regime of chaos and anarchy which makes mock of her impassioned talk of ‘truth and reconciliation’.

Throughout the evening Buffini injects any number of touches – from mobile phones, sanitising gel, internet websites, and the aforementioned helicopter to help contrast the ancient with the modern, and draws humour of sorts from a trio of very young soldiers who, before the auditorium lights dim, harangue the audience to switch off their phones and stop rummaging through their programmes.

Nonetheless, an air of self-conscious contrivance prevails as the author attempts to prove her thesis that nothing changes human nature, especially men behaving badly.

Played out against Tim Hatley’s operatic-looking ruin of a set, and acted in operatic fashion by a large cast, the best of whom are Nikki Amuka-Bird, David Harewood and Chuck Iwuji, Richard Eyre’s rock-solid direction does the best it can for a play whose ambitions cannot disguise its woolly thinking, often tiresome dialogue, and, most damaging of all, failure to involve us emotionally with any of the characters.

Olivier Theatre (National Theatre)

CLIVE HIRSCHHORN. Courtesy of This Is London.

Book tickets to Welcome to Thebes at the National Theatre in London

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