Latest Posts


  • architecture (5)
  • National Portrait Gallery (4)
  • National Theatre (4)
  • NPG (3)
  • Tate Britain (3)
  • Alexander McQueen (2)
  • NGV Australia (2)
  • Michael Jackson (1)
  • Isle of Dogs (1)
  • Votes for Women (1)
  • Archives

  • May 2022 (1)
  • February 2022 (1)
  • December 2021 (1)
  • August 2021 (1)
  • February 2021 (1)
  • December 2020 (1)
  • September 2020 (1)
  • June 2020 (1)
  • March 2020 (1)
  • February 2020 (1)
  • Articles by Sonali

    Theatre review: Paradise

    Paradise, a new adaptation by poet Kae Tempest, of one of Sophocles’ lesser-known plays opened in August after lockdown at the National Theatre. The play was first performed in 409 BCE.

    When Tempest first workshopped the play in 2018, she updated several aspects from Sophocles’ original. Most notably her adaptation features an all-female cast. In rehearsals the three main roles were played by men but as Tempest decided on a female chorus, she didn’t want them standing around watching the men and so she cast Neoptolemus, Odysseus and Philoctetes as women as well.

    According to Greek myth, Philoctetes (played by Lesley Sharp) was a war hero revered for his archery skills but he becomes a burden to his military commander Odysseus (Anastasia Hille) when he is wounded in battle. On the way to Troy Odysseus cruelly abandons Philoctetes with his bow and arrow on a desolate island.

    The play opens ten years later. It begins with verse spoken in an ominous, rhythmic tone and singing by Aunty (played by Eska) from the chorus of women who are refugees on the Island. Tempest has cast the chorus as individual characters. In Rae Smith’s low key set made from 50 percent recycled materials, they live in a shanty town built from detritus washed up on the shoreline. To the stage right is the cave where Philoctetes lives in isolation. Costumes (mostly second-hand) are low key and contemporary, army jackets and trousers. It is all about the drama.

    Odysseus and Neoptolemus (son of Achilles played by Gloria Obianyo) enter the rotunda stage where most of the story unfolds. Anastasia Hille and Gloria Obianyo are convincing in their male roles but their portrayal exaggerates the character’s machismo, distracting us from the main story. Odysseus conspires to trick Philoctetes into returning to battle with his bow and arrow. After a longwinded discussion he convinces Neoptolemus to speak to Philoctetes on his behalf.

    The pace picks up considerably when Philoctetes arrives on stage. Sharp’s exhilarating rendition of the character is part cockney geezer / part Caliban, shape shifting from fury at being betrayed by Odysseus to vulnerability from his wounded leg and pride, occasionally squirming in sudden fits of pain. Philoctetes stomps about the stage (dragging his injured leg behind him) wary of Neoptolemus’s intentions. But at times he warms to the pleas of the young soldier, and he is visibly affected at the news of his father Achilles’s death

    What follows is a protracted question of what will Philoctetes do next: will he go back to the Trojan War with Neoptolemus or stay on the Island? Later on arch enemies Philoctetes and Odysseus cross paths on the Island leading to a violent confrontation.

    The chorus provides a counterpoint to the male leads by commenting on their shouty interactions (“keep your hair on!”). While the male characters are motivated by self-interest, shedding light on their hubris, the chorus functions as a community. They are concerned about one another’s well-being and the well-being of the environment, and their banter and conversations reveal their back stories.

    Overall, the play is a mishmash with occasional bursts of singing and humour: when Odysseus is wounded (in the confrontation with Philoctetes) a member of the chorus offers to treat the injury with oregano at which he replies: “I’m not a pizza.” And near the end Philoctetes launches into a diatribe against the war and against the government (this nation is broken}. The aggregation of these different elements often seem random and disjointed.

    The story is coherent in terms of its trajectory although the ending is muddled, for instance, we discover Philoctetes was not living as an outcast on the Island after all.  

    Nonetheless the production is engaging and accessible featuring a diverse cast. Lesley Sharp’s energised rendition of Philoctetes drives the production and her enthusiasm, along with the entire cast, for the project is tangible, spilling over to the audience. Their enthusiasm combined with the compelling story of Philoctetes’s transformation helped make it an enjoyable event. And Tempest has successfully created a continuum between the contemporary and ancient worlds, with references to the displacement of peoples, cycles of war, anti-war sentiments and the play on gender.

    Comments (0)

    Add a Comment

    Allowed tags: <b><i><br>Add a new comment: