Brighton Year-Round 2023
Martin Malone more than revives Edward Albee’s 2002 masterpiece The Goat, at the New Venture Theatre; he rethinks how we can receive it. What emerges in one hundred-odd minutes – here split into 35/75 minutes with interval – is a deadly tread of Greek tragedy, pitched in a slow build punctuated by the shattering of plates. An exemplary revival of a play Michael Billington named one of his 101 Greatest – even over Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Make up your own mind; see it.
Edward Albee’s 2002 The Goat is directed by Martin Malone, Set Design and Set Painting Fiona Hewitt, Production Manager Pat Boxall, Stage Manager Carol Croft, ASMs Hannah Bryant & Elaine Larkin
Lighting Design John Everett & Will Scott, Lighting Rigging Will Scott, Light Operation Alex Epps, and Sound Design & Operation Philip Castle, Costume Design & Hair Director & Cast
Set Construction John Everett, George Walter, Simon Glazier, Rebecca Cormac, Steve Hutton.
Poster Martin Malone, Programme Ian Amos, Rehearsal Photographer Charly Summers, Publicity and Marketing Maxine Joyce, Health and Safety Ian Black.
Till June 24th.
Martin Malone more than revives Edward Albee’s 2002 masterpiece The Goat, at the New Venture Theatre; he rethinks how we can receive it. What emerges in one hundred-odd minutes – here split into 35/75 minutes with interval – is a deadly tread of Greek tragedy, pitched in a slow build punctuated by the shattering of plates.
That pitch is answered in Malone’s set, a squeaky-clean CSI/Ikea home lit with a tenebrous, relentless beat like something Greek; as indeed Philip Castle’s sound design with noises-off works up to ‘The Beast in Me’.
Here verbal play turns in on itself and irradiates a whole dramatic structure – verbal precision’s also an obsession of both husband Martin and wife Stevie. There’s the subtitle for a start: ‘Who is Sylvia’ is made devastating use of later.
Albee’s radical examination of the word tragedy or tragoidia, or goat song might provide the conceit but the theme of erotic fixation and taboo taken to new extremes couples as it were the rending of a strong, passionate marriage in a litanic tread of “Shut up!” from Stevie.
It’s hard to avoid the feeling that Martin’s plans to flatten Kansas wheat fields under a fantastical city of concrete is an act of hubris on nature that nature answers. Beyond the few fixtures in the living room there’s a sinister blast of daylight at the end, as John Everett’s and Will’s Scott lighting slides round a bright March day.
Rob Punter’s Martin is a fifty-year old at his zenith as world-famous architect, joyously married to Stevie and affectionate to their gay teenage son Billy – Killian Wheeler, here making an exemplary debut, portraying Billy as both jumpy and not knowing which way to.
Martin’s interviewed by his oldest friend Ross (Jason Lever) and getting distracted, so much so Ross abandons his TV interview. Punter’s Martin unravels in forgetfulness, peering out into a bespectacled void, blinking admission.
He’s fallen in love physically, emotionally with a goat. It sounds comically Pythonesque, but this titter dies away. Ross and later Stevie are treated to reports of Martin’s online conversations with other animal-fixated folk, including Albee’s ferocious humour. Martin reveals an Alsatian owner’s fixation: “The woman with the dog?” “No, another” says Martin deadpan. Some are folk they know.
Lever in a finely-judged, darkening bonhomie, expresses such conventional disgust you almost wonder what trip-wires to liberalism Martin’s enacted. Albee’s clear that liberalism even here fundamentally expressed by lifelong friends is a veneer. It’s Ross too who informs Stevie.
A hitherto great marriage, including sex is what powers this dynamic. Gina Cameron’s Stevie is playful, taking Martin’s jokey admission earlier as badinage when in fact he knows she’ll take it that way. There’s prolepsis for you.
Later her appalled reaction to Martin’s correction about Sylvia the goat trips over their fundamentally different understanding of what they’re talking about: mutually precise terms sever them. It’s splitting Albee’s Shakespearean subtitle ‘Who is Sylvia’, from the implied ‘what is she’; so “whom” according to Martin, personalises Sylvia out of the thing Stevie denotes. Stevie’s incredulous echo explodes her world.
What follows rends love and disbelief. When after plate-smashing Stevie announces “I’ll take you down” you realize how completely she identifies her own destruction with Martin. Later she uses the present tense “I love you” after everything else has smashed. Cameron’s ratcheting up from disbelief through anger and resolution describes a steady shuddering arc. Each “Shut up!” is varied; the tread never tires but ratchets up.
It’s electrifying, and Punter’s feeding into her furies is a study in baffled co-dependency as he struggles to differentiate his love of Stevie with Sylvia. This releases c-words turned with deadly precision by Cameron’s outraged but ineluctably coupled character. Cameron’s outstanding, even frightening here.
Wheeler’s finely-tuned Billy though enacts a transgression of his own just as Lever’s Ross walks in and manages again to call things just slightly wrong. Wheeler’s occasional dropping of accent is more than compensated by the uncanny truth of his Billy. It’s Albee’s ability to frame disjunct disturbed feelings – here, Billy’s – into a dialectic of what’s normal, what’s aberration.
Earlier confronting the incredulous Ross, Martin touches the essentials: “Is there anything you people don’t get off on?” Martin’s deadpan rejoinder: “Is there anything anyone doesn’t get off on, whether we admit it or not?” puts his and Albee’s case with finality.
Except of course that the emotional outfall enacts a damage beyond Ross’s morality, the one which after all blew this open to Martin’s family; it’s the case Martin can’t answer. Punter’s slow-faze coming apart is precisely frayed, appalled, appalling.
With an unusually-placed new interval (it had to be where it is), the original Greek straight-through structure’s punctuated though little is lost. ‘The Beast in Me’ is a witty exeunt choice, but perhaps best-placed at the interval; the end cries on silence.
The shocking contained denouement comes as the set’s lighting pierces from the offstage front door, asking what on earth can be saved. And it is earth, nature refusing to be concreted over, that has the last word on Martin’s hubris even as it’s dragged into the manicured light. An exemplary revival of a play Michael Billington named one of his 101 Greatest – even over Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Make up your own mind; see it.