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

Middlesex’s talented 19-year-old bowler – and former North Middlesex paceman – Ethan Bamber made his first class debut against Northants on Sunday during day one of their County Championship clash. Read Layth Yousif’s morning session report from Wantage Road on Sunday.

Arsenal head coach Unai Emery has been speaking after Chelsea beat the Gunners 3-2 in a frenetic London derby. Read on to learn waht he said about Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka in his post-match press conference – and much more.

Arsenal centre-half Sokratis has said his side made it ‘too easy’ for Chelsea during the Gunners 3-2 defeat in the London derby at Chelsea on Saturday. Read on for what he had to say.

Yesterday, 19:25

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino was pleased with his players in their 3-1 victory against Fulham but believes there is still plenty to improve on despite winning both of their Premier League matches so far.

Chelsea beat Arsenal 3-2 in a breathless London derby after an 80th minute winner from Marcos Alonso sealed the victory for Maurizio Sarri’s Blues as Unai Emery suffered his second league defeat in two matches.

Arsenal travelled to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea in a hectic London derby. Read on for Layth Yousif’s PLAYER RATINGS

Yesterday, 17:25

Premier League: Tottenham Hotspur 3 Fulham 1

Fri, 19:30

Six year old Camden schoolgirl Lily Conlan has been shortlisted for a prestigious campaigning award for her work to promote deaf awareness.

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