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Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National Theatre, review: ‘Downton Abbey star in tale of Greek political turmoil’

PUBLISHED: 13:13 06 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:13 06 June 2016

Glykeria Dimou and Pippa Nixon in Sunset at the Villa Thalia. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Glykeria Dimou and Pippa Nixon in Sunset at the Villa Thalia. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Archant

A new play about Greek political turmoil should feel thoroughly topical, but Alexi Kaye Campbell both illuminates and regrettably sidesteps the current European crisis by setting his in the mid 20th century.

Part morality tale, part history lesson and part horror story, it’s an engrossing piece, though never quite coalesces into convincing theatre.

Playwright Theo and actress wife Charlotte are holidaying in a peasant cottage on Skiathos in 1967 – beautifully evoked by Hildegard Bechtler’s sun-bleached set and period attire.

Shadowy CIA guest Harvey arranges the sale of the house to the Brits for next to nothing, taking advantage of the Greek owners’ economically necessitated emigration.

That same day, the Colonels seize power in a bloodless coup.

The second half, set nine years later, examines the fallout.

Kaye Campbell addresses imperialist intervention, cultural appropriation and the capitalist view of democracy, but doesn’t let the drama carry those themes – they’re rigorously and explicitly disputed by a paranoid, haunted Harvey, desperate to justify his actions, and hard-line moralist Charlotte.

A Chile debate is a polemical bridge too far, even if Kaye Campbell is aiming to act as a didaskalos: the dual Greek role of writer and teacher.

Ben Miles produces a dangerously charming Harvey, whose emotionally manipulative sales pitch would make Don Draper proud, while Downton’s Elizabeth McGovern is a hoot as his platinum-blonde lush of a wife.

Pippa Nixon does her best with relentless killjoy Charlotte, though the commented-upon sexual tension with Harvey remains absent, and there’s good support from a scene-stealing pair of kids and exploited Greeks Glykeria Dimou, Christos Callow and Eve Polycarpou.

Yet the British and American voices are prioritised – we can appreciate the value of those lives affected, but we’re kept at one remove from them.

Sunset at the Villa Thalia is at the National Theatre.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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