★★★★ | Thebes Land
Our fascination with murder shows no sign of waning. Crime fiction, newspaper headlines and ‘true life’ series like Making a Murderer and Serial present tales that are still as grimly compelling to us as the story of Oedipus murdering his father was to the ancient Greeks. ‘Thebes Land’ promises us the story of Martin, a young man who has committed a particularly grisly act of patricide. Not only is documentary maker ‘T’ going to tell us about the story of how he met Martin in order to write this play but he’s also going to present the real Martin on stage. The audience are safe, though. Martin is contained in a 3-metre high wire cage, as per Home Office regulations. Or is he up on the balcony under armed guard? Or is he watching us watching him via video-link?
Daniel Goldman’s cleverly adapted version of this South American piece is a wily beast of a play. It beguiles, tricks and twists until the audience aren’t quite sure what to believe at any point. It starts innocuously enough and promises to be a slightly dry but nonetheless intriguing academic discourse on the nature of theatre-making and storytelling. That’s the first trick of many. It’s a whole lot more than that. What evolves is multifaceted with reflections on multiple issues including the father/son relationship, truth and ego.
It’s a lot more than that too. It’s a grisly crime story, it’s titillating (whilst making you feel perturbed that it’s titillating) and it has a disturbing undertone of sexual tension that crops up between the two men. Hell, it even has a weird little segment where there’s a Whitney Houston number. There’s so much contained here that it leaves you reeling at points and not sure what to think about next.
There is the odd discordant moment where the self-mocking misses the mark but these are few and far between and the two actors are entirely credible. There’s something impish, attractive and likeable about Trevor White’s ‘T’ and Alex Austin gives good vulnerable but terrifying disaffected youth. If you like to be toyed with and want an unconventional night at the theatre then head down to The Arcola and take a cage-side seat. You won’t regret it.
Thebes Land plays at the Arcola Theatre until 23rd December
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