It’s rare enough to encounter a non-English play in translation, and Thebes Land at the Arcola Theatre is an experience not to be missed. A postmodern riff on the theme of patricide, the dark and violent heart of the play is revealed in a clever manner, with moments of real lightness threaded into this ominous subject. Martin (Alex Austin) is introduced as the killer, enclosed in a forebodingly sparse cage structure, supposedly there for our safety. Our narrator and guide, T (Trevor White), is a writer attempting to create a play about patricide. He chooses Martin as his subject.
Despite a slightly strained start, as it takes the audience a few moments to come on board with what they are about to see, the story does hit a momentum and stays there. The explanation of the building of the project gives us an immediate sense of spiraling between fact and fiction. Daniel Goldman has cleverly adapted the details of this play by Sergio Blanco, such that small details reflect both the actor’s real information and the cultural tidbits that lend it all a sense of here and now.
Austin is outstanding in his portrayal of Martin/Freddie, blending seamlessly from one to the other in between shooting hoops. The physicality of the two in the space is so compelling – moments of pause turn what feels like a world between them into a dense, taut encounter. Jemima Robinson’s stark yet layered design lends itself perfectly to the complex readings and rereadings of the subject.
As the case unfolds, the suspect nature of the pieces continue to be revealed. Everything is up for debate and explanation, the artifice of the whole very much at the core. “Art is better than reality,” T says, and he’s right. The abuse, violence, and tragedy of the underlying story are unpicked with great care and skill in Blanco’s play. Repeated sections expose the underside of theatre’s own construction, writing and performance. The screens overhead
reveal things that are not there, and in one particularly effective scene, Austin plays out in perfect harmony with the footage. White and Austin move in unison, with lightness and tension.
Blending basketball, references to Oedipus Rex, and popular music, Thebes Land is an utterly thrilling piece of theatre. There isn’t a spare moment wasted. This is what all theatre should feel like when you leave the room – challenging, provocative, and crisply executed. Between sharp design, an unforgettable set, perfect performances and a clever script, there’s really nothing to fault. “This is weird,” Martin says, “theatre.” In the very best way.
Review by Christina Carè Calgaro
It’s back. The smash-hit, critically-acclaimed Thebes Land – winner of Best Production at the 2016 Off West End awards – returns to Arcola for 5 weeks only.
In this exhilarating multiple-reality drama, a playwright struggles to stage the incredible story of Martin Santos, a young man serving a life sentence for killing his father. As their interviews progress and opening night approaches, both of their worlds begin to unravel with shocking consequences. Will the truth be found, and can it be told?
Trevor White and Alex Austin reprise their celebrated performances in Daniel Goldman‘s funny, ingenious production, performed inside a giant steel cage.
Arcola Theatre and CASA Latin American Theatre Festival
by Sergio Blanco
Directed by Daniel Goldman
6th September to 7th October 2017