Alexi Kaye Campbell’s long-awaited follow-up to his hugely popular The Pride in 2008 takes the audience to a remote Greek island in Sunset at the Villa Thalia, currently playing on London’s bustling Southbank. Set on the hot, sun-drenched island of Skiathos in April, 1967, Act I introduces young British playwright Theo (Sam Crane) and his actress wife Charlotte (Pippa Nixon), hiring the run-down ‘villa’ for a few weeks to write and relax. The happy newly weds are in the midst of preparing for their dinner guests – an American couple they stumbled across the night before, comprised of Harvey (Ben Miles) – who happens to work for the CIA – and his glamorous, ditzy wife June (a sharply amusing Elizabeth McGovern).
Set on the very day that the Colonels staged a military coup, seizing power and throwing Greece into a tumultuous right-wing repression, our English couple decide (after much persuasion from the rather overbearing Americans) to buy the villa and its contents. Its owners, Maria and her father, are moving to Australia to escape the poverty they have long endured, and it transpires Maria’s father is willing to sell this much-loved property for next to nothing. So far, so familiar; but this seems to be where the parallels with the plight of modern Greece end.
Fast-forward to Act II, and our four protagonists are once more reunited in August, 1976. Theo and Charlotte now have two children, and Theo’s playwriting career is blooming (even if his plays are, he admits, a little ‘lukewarm’). A form of democracy has been restored in Greece, yet the country continues to struggle on. Theo and Charlotte intend to sell the Villa Thalia, and their relationship with Harvey and June is strained. Tension builds as Charlotte and Harvey snipe at one other, heatedly lambasting their opposing political ideals. Harvey waxes lyrical about his pursuit for democracy, despising yet defending the lengths he must go to in order to achieve this end. His actions – the orders he must follow – have clearly left him in a tortured state, and his attraction towards Charlotte and his love for Theo, and their dreams, hopes, and ‘idyllic marriage’ (whilst his own marriage flounders), seem to be the antidote to the ‘bad things’ he has done. Yet whilst Miles’ performance as Harvey is credible, the script is not sufficiently engaging to render the scenario believable. It is also difficult to sympathise with characters that are not likeable enough to encourage the viewer to root for them (and their cause).
That said, there are delicious moments of wit, insight and naturalism throughout this play, which is wonderfully acted by all the cast. Moreover, Hildegard Bechtler’s set is sumptuous, transporting the viewer to an arid, circadian-filled beach shack. Despite the heavy moral tone that the play adopts in the second act, the play’s relevance to the modern plight of Greece feels negligible; yet the relationships within the play, the larger than life characters, and some moments of comedy gold all still render Sunset at the Villa Thalia an enjoyable, sunshine-filled watch.
Review by Amy Stow
Sunset at the Villa Thalia
April 1967: Greece is in political turmoil.
Charlotte and Theo have retreated to a small island in search of peace and inspiration. But when they meet a charismatic American couple at the port they are seduced into making choices with devastating consequences.
This funny and passionate new play by Alexi Kaye Campbell (The Pride, Apologia) spans a decade as it explores the impact of foreign influence, planned and unintentional, on a nation and its people.
Sunset at the Villa Thalia
a new play by Alexi Kaye Campbell
Running Time: 2 hours inc 20 minute interval
Booking to 4th August 2016