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Review of Thebes Land at the Arcola Theatre

THEBES LAND - Trevor White and Alex Austin
THEBES LAND – Trevor White and Alex Austin Photo Alex Brenner

I’m not your teacher, says the clever playwright to the prisoner in the three metre high cage on stage, designed to the required specifications of the Ministry of Justice. This prisoner is going to be useful to T because he wants to write a play about patricide and Martin’s murdered his father.

That’s how the scene is set for this superb and intricate play. Nothing else about the narrative will be described here because the show’s programme, which also includes the text of the play, asks its audience not to read about it first, to make it more enjoyable.

T is played with enormous charm by Trevor White. He’s wandering about in the auditorium as we settle ourselves in our seats, one of us, looking like he’s theatre management, smart jeans and a jacket, sharp haircut, trendy tan brogues. Meanwhile, the man in the cage is The Other, wearing a grey tracksuit and trainers. So dangerous he can’t be allowed among us.

The first half of the show sets out to build a fire, there’s repetition of dialogue we don’t yet understand the significance of, the pace is deliberate, it’s necessary to trust the process. The house lights are on, there’s no place for the audience to rest in the dark but there’s essential humour to lift the tone. Also, Alex Austin being superb, swapping the skin of two characters seamlessly before our eyes. Without props to assist he moves from cowed to likeable, from ingratiating to threatening making us feel his isolation, the danger inside. One young man could be the other but they’re different, the question here is why.

It’s in the second half of the show the structures built with care in the first half catch fire to burn with searing intensity. The pace set by Director, Daniel Goldman, becomes tight and controlled. The playwright who said he was not a teacher, learns from the prisoner who has never been to a theatre, knows books only as a weapon and nothing about classical music, except he likes it. Making T draw on the crucible of knowledge he has been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to acquire, from literature, art and music, to make connections, finding answers to fascinate. To provoke.

By the time Martin describes how he killed his father we have all learnt enough about him to understand why he did what he did, in the way he did, even as we shrink from the horror of the act.

This play is energising. It’s redemptive, affirmatory about the importance of education, about art, about kindness. There’s poetry, there’s beauty and there’s pathos here. Also, an important examination of the way we look after suffering children in our society, some of whom will become men in our prison system.

Treat our prisoners properly, understand the actor and the prisoner might have been the same. This is theatre with a greater purpose. A brilliant, important show, wonderfully executed. Congratulations to all involved, including Sergio Blanco, the real playwright of the text.

4 stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

Some things aren’t easy to tell.
An electrifying tale about truth and fiction, retribution and justice, Thebes Land has played sold-out runs in eight countries worldwide.

Now it premieres in the UK for four weeks only, starring Trevor White (Long Day’s Journey Into Night, West End; Enron, Royal Court) and Alex Austin (Fury, Soho Theatre; Yen, Royal Court).

Franco-Uruguayan playwright Sergio Blanco, one of Latin America’s most exciting voices, teams up with award-winning director Daniel Goldman to tease the boundaries between truth and lies, what you know and what you think you know.

This darkly funny, frequently surprising drama is staged inside an enormous steel cage.

Trevor White
Alex Austin
Martin Santos

Text – Sergio Blanco
Direction – Daniel Goldman
Literal Translation – Rob Cavazos
Adaptation – Daniel Goldman
Design – Jemima Robinson
Lighting and Video Design – Richard Williamson
Sound Design – Elena Pena
Production Manager – Scott Handley
Production LX – Josh Hale
Assistant Production Manager – Tom Salmon
Stage Manager – Cassandra Fumi
Associate Director – Gianluca Lello
Photogaphy – Alex Brenner
Assistant Director – Mariana Aristizabal
Assistant Designer – Malena Arcucci

A production by Arcola Theatre and CASA Latin American Theatre Festival. Supported by Arts Council England Grants for the Arts.
Running time; 2 hours 30 minutes with a 15-minute interval
Thebes land
Booking to 23rd December 2016


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