Theatre review: The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?
Traverse Theatre ****
EXPLORING the darkest corners of human morality, this rarely- performed Edward Albee comedy about the limits of modern liberal values graces the Traverse in its very first outing on Scottish soil.
Approaching 50 and displaying an enviable carefree attitude, there's a lot to admire about Martin. He's one of the most revered architects of his time – recently winning the prestigious Pritzker Prize. He's also got his beautiful wife Stevie, a luxurious home, and a son who, despite some obvious misgivings about his sexual orientation, completes the package.
As Martin awaits the arrival of Ross – his old college buddy on his way round to film a television interview with him – there's a perfect sense of comfort and playfulness between the couple, but also a lurking restlessness that is soon to bring their marriage to its knees.
Reminiscing about college flings and musing over their own directions in life, Martin seizes the opportunity to share with Ross the one thing he couldn't bring himself to tell his wife: he's having an affair . . . with a goat.
It's a subject which is beyond comprehension to the vast majority of us, and the premise of the show borders on the absurd. Even more so as it becomes clear this is no stupid mistake, there's apparently a genuine connection and love at the heart of the crude fling.
But, owing to the honest and imaginative handling of this weird situation, Albee captivates from the moment the prodigious confrontation between the couple begins. Sian Thomas is absolutely perfect as the disbelieving, infuriated wife, forced to confront the horror of finding herself placed on a sexual and emotional par with a farm animal.
Martin – played by John Ramm – delivers an immensely funny, enigmatic performance as a man facing up to the most shameful of secrets. Both of them together bring the world of this couple in crisis to life. It's not a situation you're likely to come across very often, and they make it so painfully real to witness. You feel as though you're watching something beautiful die right in front of you.
Albee's writing is incredibly weighty and insightful throughout. For example, the gradual destruction of the exquisitely-crafted living room set offers a clever metaphor for their emotional demise.
Consistently witty and pedantic grammatical corrections punctuate the increasingly heated argument, creating a sense of their depth of understanding and shared sense of humour, even in the darkest moments. This also acts as a clever tool to make this emotional scene easier to bear without detracting from its intensity.
But while the taboo subject of bestiality does indeed deliver a compelling test of the characters' liberal values, it's perhaps a pity that writing doesn't afford the same comprehensive treatment to the other subjects of incest, homosexuality and mistrust, which feel ever so slightly contrived by comparison.
However, a truly shocking ending offers a fitting climax to this bold exploration of modern taboos. This is a very well executed piece of theatre that gets inside your head and stays there.
Run ends 8 May
Your Review: 'Immense.. a great night at the theatre'
Ronan O'Donnell, 49, writer, Portobello: "I thought all the cast were absolutely brilliant. It perfectly captured the depth and madness of love and how it can take over your life and leave you feeling completely destroyed. Right down to the smallest details I thought it was immense – a great night at the theatre."
David Chalmers, 20, student, Pleasance: "I really enjoyed it. The wife in particular was played superbly, doing a great job in portraying hysterical rage without ever being found guilty of over-acting."
Michael Gray, 48, physician, New Town: "This really was disturbing stuff, especially when you treat it as a metaphor for the middle age psyche. It carefully explores the areas that most people are frightened to touch."
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Monday 20 May 2013
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