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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Olivier Theatre   Summer 2021

War and its trauma are central to the play Paradise, Kae Tempestís version of Philoctetes by Sophocles. The play opens with women of a refugee camp moving around in the early morning asking each other how they had slept.

Some claim they had been disturbed by sirens, others by the sound of helicopters. It's an ominous start, and soon we meet a couple of soldiers who may have been the cause of the noise.

Dressed in 21st Century military uniforms, they have come for Philoctetes ( Lesley Sharp), a soldier who one of them, Odysseus (Anastasia Hille), had left behind injured ten years earlier as an inconvenience to the travel plans. But now they need him and his very special bow and arrow to inspire the troops and help them win their twelve years war. That will require the other soldier Neoptolemus (Gloria Obianyo) to deceive Philoctetes into coming with them to the war, or failing that, to steal the precious weapon.

Sophocles makes the question of honesty and honour the moral focus of the play, leaving the morality of the war itself unquestioned. Kae Tempest shifts our concern to the consequences of war that include refugee women who have lost husbands, the brutalities of the fighting and the waste of human life. Neoptolemus is no longer the tainted idealist, but instead a very vicious thug, who knows how to kick you when you are down.

Philoctetes becomes the voice of much of the anti-war sentiment and, in a bitter rage against the home country he felt betrayed him, he tells Neoptolemus 'I hear people are starving in your land of hope and glory,' prompting the reply 'Then come back and change it. Give them something to believe in.'

His most intense attacks on the 'rampant opportunism' of its leaders, and a country where 'integrity is rewarded with despair'  generate enthusiastic applause from the audience.

The gloom of the subject matter is lightened with jokes and occasionally the somewhat exaggerated cockney wide boy tones of Philoctetes. This can distract from the seriousness of the play and dissipate the dramatic tension, but even so, this is a performance well worth seeing.

Keith McKenna

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Review of  Paradise - National Theatre 2921

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