Thebes Land, Arcola, review: ‘Tough subject matter is surprisingly funny and impressively humane’

PUBLISHED: 18:03 13 September 2017 | UPDATED: 18:03 13 September 2017

Thebes Land at the Arcola. Picture: Alex Brenner

Thebes Land at the Arcola. Picture: Alex Brenner

(c) Alex Brenner

Winner of the 2016 OffWestEnd best production award, Daniel Goldman’s taut revival stirs up age-old Freudian theories with a startling take on the limitations of creative license.

Can we ever comprehend what drives a son to kill his father?

In Franco-Uruguayan Sergio Blanco’s morbidly compelling Thebes Land, it’s “the incomprehensible territory” of latent violence within us – a theory posited by his alter ego, a pseudo-intellectual writer-director who sets out to interview a young man imprisoned for patricide in Belmarsh.

Winner of the 2016 OffWestEnd best production award, Daniel Goldman’s taut revival stirs up age-old Freudian theories with a startling take on the limitations of creative license.

The whole play is staged inside a caged basketball-court set designed by Jemima Robinson. Ironically, the claustrophobic space proffers some escape for prisoner Martin (Alex Austin) who attempts to order his frustrations according to the rules of the game.

It’s also where Martin meets playwright S (Trevor White) for his informal interviews. But devising a play about an uneducated, abused patricide was never going to be straightforward and Blanco’s cat-and-mouse structure works to peel back layers of the characters as they struggle to find common ground, while simultaneously challenging our perceptions of the creative process.

When S breaks the news that Martin cannot appear in the production for legal reasons and in steps Martin’s stage incarnation, a bright eyed and bushy-tailed aspiring actor Freddie (also brilliantly played by Austin), the gross inadequacies of documenting trauma are expertly satirised. Truth becomes impossibly slippery.

Past scenes cut into the present and alternative versions of the future jostle with reality: what was actually said when Martin gave S his beloved mother’s rosary? How much does Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” feature in the play once it’s written? As the questions mount, what the two men represent for one another also keeps shifting: who is really the mentor here, and is S a father figure or potential lover?

The meta-theatrical game-playing at times becomes a tad indulgent. And at two and a half hours, the play could do with some trimming. But the performances are mesmerising and Goldman is to be applauded for translating the play and showcasing it to a UK audience.

Despite the tough subject matter, it’s surprisingly funny and impressively humane.

4/5 stars

Latest Hampstead & Highgate Stories

Yesterday, 17:51

The developer behind plans to restore Hornsey Town Hall has announced the firm tasked with running its arts venue.

Yesterday, 17:00

Hendon’s Cian Hynes helped them secure a narrow 23-21 victory over local rivals UCS Old Boys in their Herts Middlesex One derby at the weekend.

Yesterday, 16:28

Middlesex’s Steven Finn was delighted to deliver a matchwinning spell in their County Championship clash against Lancashire at Lord’s.

Yesterday, 16:00

Experienced striker has joined the Gunners youth academy and will coach their under-16s

Yesterday, 15:14

Forgotten England paceman Steven Finn returned his first five-wicket championship haul since April 2014 to steer Middlesex to a crucial 36-run win over Lancashire with a day to spare at Lord’s.

Yesterday, 14:35

Spurs manager calls on his players to match the desire, motivation and aggression of the West Ham team this weekend

Yesterday, 14:00

The new Hackney Pool League season got underway with five matches on Wednesday night.

Yesterday, 13:35

Hampstead women’s second string held on for a nailbiting win over Hitchin.

Most read Hampstead & Highgate etcetera

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Hampstead & Highgate Express
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now