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, 18:53

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall has hailed his side’s ability to thrive under pressure after they beat Exeter Chiefs 27-10 in the Aviva Premiership final.

Yesterday, 17:05

Saracens produced a stifling performance in the Twickenham heat to smother Exeter Chiefs with a 27-10 win in the Aviva Premiership final.

The country is divided - not just the ‘Laurel or Yanni’ debate - but by a different ‘Laurel’: ‘another fine mess’ the Laurel and Hardy Conservative Party has ‘got us into’, over Brexit.

Yesterday, 08:00

Letters, contributions and comments sent in from Ham&High readers this week.

Fri, 19:35

Middlesex coach Richard Scott hailed his side after a third successive win in the Royal London One-Day Cup.

Fri, 18:14

Paul Stirling defied a thigh injury which forced him to bat with a runner to score his second century in less than a week as Middlesex beat Sussex by 74 runs at Hove in the Royal London One-Day Cup.

Fri, 18:00

Jamie George insists the spotlight is thrust upon Exeter as Saracens look to summon all their big-game experience for Saturday’s Aviva Premiership final.

Fri, 17:18

Bridget Galton visits legendary St John’s Wood deli Panzers to see how it’s been spruced up

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