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Ruby Ticket Reviews: Kae Tempest's Paradise

Our Network donates tickets to our Young Community and they review the event they attend - first up, Paradise, by Kae Tempest, at the National Theatre. Ruby Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Paradise is a new take on the Ancient Greek tale of Philoctetes by poet, performer, and recording artist Kae Tempest. Soldier and great archer Philoctetes is stranded, wounded, on an island. When those who left him there return, how will he respond to the various opportunities that presents, and all the emotions it stirs? Directed by Ian Rickson, and featuring an all female cast led by Lesley Sharp, Paradise ran at the National Theatre in London from 4 August - 11 September 2021.

A thrilling story of pride, glory and betrayal.
The National Theatre

"Entering the venue I was immediately struck by how beautiful the overall set design was. And I was intrigued as to how the actors were going to move within this space, as some of the set was built vertically. As the actors stepped on stage one by one in what seemed to be casual conversation in character, I could feel the stage slowly coming to life and felt that I was being transported to the space in which these characters lived.

What I noticed was also quite important to the play was the way the light was used to emphasise certain sections, whether to simply demonstrate a time of day, or to highlight a key moment/turning point in the play. This was also interconnected with the use of sound; right from even before the play started a soundscape was played to the audience to set the tone and setting of the play, which definitely fully immersed me into the space created.

As someone who doesn’t know too much about Greek myths, the way this particular play was written out made it extremely easy to understand and relate to compared to more traditional plays who stick exactly to the myths, because the story’s timeline was pushed forward into a modern day refugee camp on an island. I was particularly impressed by Lesley Sharp’s performance as Philoctetes because she completely embodied this character and drew you in every time she spoke/moved on stage."

- Isabella

Ian Rickson and cast in rehearsal for Paradise at the National Theatre Photo by Helen Murray

"Though I regularly go to the theatre in Manchester, I haven't really had much opportunity to go and see anything in London before. Kae Tempest's Paradise seemed like the perfect show to watch; and it did not disappoint. The adaptation of the Philoctetes story with an ensemble of all women really stood out as a bold and modern interpretation of a play that is not often seen as one of the standouts. The use of staging, song, comedy and atmosphere all helped to establish the story extremely well and drew me in, as an audience member, to the tension and stakes of the play- particularly in relation to Philoctetes and Odysseus.

I particularly enjoyed the comedic timing of the more authoritative characters as this helped to humanise them and see them as more than heroes and villains. The chorus acted as a watchful presence, holding people to account but the way that the actors all retained individualism with their characters shone through. I had big expectations of a National Theatre play- I have only ever seen others on video - and I was certainly not disappointed. It was a brilliant performance that captured the themes of war, blame and community in a thought provoking way that still remained inclusive for the audience."

- Maya

The words written by Kae Tempest are relevant and need to be heard at a theatre such as the National.

"I struggled to get into Kae Tempest’s adaptation of Philoctetes by Sophocles. Perhaps because I was unfamiliar with the original story or perhaps because I was running on five hours of sleep. But a good reimagining should cater to new audiences (and sleep-deprived ones) and this production failed to deliver. Tempest’s script felt heavy-handed with the politics and cringey at times but they did a good job of an infusing and ancient text with modern humour.

Some of Ian Rickson’s directorial choices were also confusing. A lot was left too vague, such as the group of women islanders forming the chorus whose identity was never explicitly explained. The singing, however, was excellent and this could have been used more. Whilst it was refreshing to see a company of older women taking centre stage, the characterisation choices felt odd, especially the protagonist’s. Lesley Sharp’s Cockney Philoctetes resembled a character from an old sketch show and at points this almost veered the play into the comic rather than the tragic.

The running time was also an issue — two hours with no interval would be daunting for even the most ardent classicist. All in all, this was a middling production with some great moments but Tempest and Rickson were bold to take up the challenge of turning a strange play into an inevitably strange production."

- Chakira

ESKA Aunty in rehearsals for Paradise at the NT Photo by Helen Murray

"As a fan of Kae Tempests previous work, I was so excited when I heard I had access to tickets to see this show. Paradise is a modern take on the Greek myth of Philoctetes, which follows the life of a soldier that gets left abandoned on his own with an injured leg and is then visited 10 years later by the soldier who left him there, asking him to fight the war. We meet a series of intellectual and delicate characters throughout the play who each play a part in recognising the importance of having a community that supports each other.

The cast was made up of entirely women actors, which I think was a very clever and important decision when casting the show as it provided the audience with a new perspective of theatre and inclusive casting. Lesley Sharp did an incredible job of playing a male character, it was entirely believable. All round, the production was great and the words written by Kae Tempest are relevant and need to be heard at a theatre such as the National."

- Chloe

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