Arcola Theatre, 14th September 2017
Thebes Land was a hit last year at the Arcola, winning a Best Production Offie, and is back for another run as part of a short festival of Latin American theatre. Director Daniel Goldman has created a new English translation of Franco-Uruguayan playwright Sergio Blanco’s work, which has been performed around the world. It is not difficult to see why.
Trevor White play T, a playwright who is attempting to dramatise the life of Martin Santos, a parricide who has been imprisoned for life, played by Alex Austin, who doubles up as Freddie the actor chosen to play Martin. From this simple premise the play explores a whole host of themes. Martin’s culpability for his shocking crime in the face of extreme provocation. The nature of retribution and the justice of imprisonment. What is is to be a man and the burgeoning relationship between playwright and murderer/actor. The value of art and education in rehabilitation. The concept of theatrical illusion and the gap between observer and observed. How truth is constructed. The Oedipal impulse and myth.
Now if all this sounds to you like a recipe for bum-aching, brain-numbing, smart-arsed hard work you’d be wrong. Well almost wrong as there are a couple of times when it felt the conceptual envelope had been pushed a little too far, and that some sight excisions might have been contemplated. But overall this is an impressive construct. Our two actors have the exact measure of this play now. Trevor White reveals T’s ambivalent and changing motives and the way in which his intellectualism is slowly punctured by Martin’s humanity. Alex Austin is genuinely outstanding as he shows Martin and Freddie slowly seeping into each other. There is a great deal of leavening humour. There are enough changes in the direction of the “real” and “imagined” characters, and their relationships, to keep you on your toes, if not quite the edge of your seat. There are scenes of real pathos and shock. The set, a large cage, is drenched in metaphor. You even learn a bit about the precepts of theatre.
All in all a very satisfying night out at the ever inventive Arcola. I see the proper reviews focus on different facets of the play though most seemed to like it albeit not entirely convincing as to why. That about sums it up.