After the surprise of my first-booked play, ‘Common’ at the National Theatre, having its performance cancelled on my first evening in London (though unrelated to the atrocities what would befall Southwark that same evening), I was hoping that this problem wasn’t going to be contagious. Of course it rained on the way to the Theatre Royal last night but I had my trusty Michelin Man jacket with me, and have discovered it thankfully has an internal pocket just perfect for theatre programs – who knew?
Okay, we were sitting quite close to the stage, row B, but she was having none of it. The lady from Colorado who was supposed to sit next to me was outraged that she had rung three month’s ago to book and they hadn’t warned her that the seats were partial view if you were short. She went off to complain, to whom I know not. Next I hear her calling to me from the box to my right. They weren’t booked and she wanted to know if I thought this would be a better view for her, despite being on an angle to the stage. I suggested it possible was for the height-challenged but she decided to wait to find a seat elsewhere when the play began. Exit Colorado.
I imagine that in 1961 Edward Albee’s play about a man who has an affair with a goat (mercifully not on stage) was very confronting. By 2017 it is a bit ‘meh’ but we are really there to see the interactions between the man, his wife, their best friend and their son. Albee reinvigorates the Greek tragedy form to expose the inner anguish of these four protagonists. Some updating of the text had occurred. There was an unnecessary reference to computer media when the wife a letter and the son’s dialogue was reduced to the adolescent vocabulary staples “fuck”, “whatever” and “Jesus” (well at least he got a mention – numerous times).
The greatest difficulty that I had with the text was the constant semantic ctiticism between actors. Since when did Americans become experts in vocabulary and grammar. Clearly not since 1961.
Damian Lewis acting as Martin irritated me but perhaps it was partly the script. In the first scene his character displays symptoms of memory loss which he subsequently puts down to being in love. For me, Lewis had Alzheimer’s, plain and simple, and he was lucky I didn’t shout it out. I had great difficulty seeing him as a man in love, so I was grateful that he explained this weird behaviour, though I still found the whole goat thing icky. Lewis strong accent was also oddly annoying, but perhaps this was because I was seeing the play in London.
Sophie Okonedo stole the show with a riveting performance as the wife, Stevie. Comedic and tragic, she excelled in this role and is a must-see even if you are familiar with this play.
I liked Jason Hughes as the best friend, Ross. He captured the character perfectly.
The son, Billy, played by Archie Madekwe, made me slightly uncomfortable. Being accepting of a gay son must have seemed radical in 1961 but there was something about his attitude that conflicted with his need for comfort – good use of the pulled-down jumper sleeves though. Towards the end there was one highly unnecessary and, frankly, gross moment when Albee simply went too far and it’s a shame the son was drawn into this. It should have reflected solely on the central character, Martin, whose obsession with having everyone understand his position was the central tragedy.
Steer clear of goats, and steers too.