FringeReview UK 2017
Edward Albee’s 2002 The Goat is revived at the Haymarket directed by Ian Rickson. Rae Smith’s set, is lit with torches like a mausoleum or again something Greek, as indeed Gregory Clarke’s gongs wrap around P J Harvey’s music. Beyond the few fixtures in the living room there’s a frothy-looking dead tree through the balcony window, as Neil Austin’s lighting slides round a bright March day. To June 24th.
Ian Rickson more than revives Edward Albee’s 2002 masterpiece The Goat, at the Haymarket. What emerges in this one hundred-odd minutes is a deadly tread of Greek tragedy, pitched in a slow build punctuated by the shattering of plates.
That narrowing-in is answered in the set’s walls in Rae Smith’s set, lit with torches like a mausoleum or again something Greek, as indeed Gregory Clarke’s gongs wrap around P J Harvey’s music.
Here partly 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. 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 frothy-looking dead tree through the balcony window, as Neil Austin’s lighting slides round a bright March day.
Damian Lewis’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 – Archie Madkwe, 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 Hughes) and getting distracted, so much so Ross abandons his TV interview. Lewis is famed for inscrutable doubleness, though here it’s already unravelling 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 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. Hughes 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, rather than sex is what powers this production. Sophie Okonedo’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, personalizes Sylvia out of the thing Stevie denotes. Stevie’s incredulous echo explodes her world.
What follows rends love and disbelief in the way Clarke’s sound enacts with those Greek scorch-makers in air we’re treated to. When after plate-smashing she 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. Okonedo’s ratcheting up from disbelief through anger and resolution describes a steady shuddering arc. It’s electrifying, and Lewis’ feeding into her furies is a study in baffled co-dependency as he struggles to differentiate his love of Stevie. This releases a liberal use of c-words turned with deadly precision by Okonedo’s outraged but ineluctably coupled character.
Madkwe’s finely-tuned Billy though enacts a transgression of his own just as Hughes’ Ross walks in and manages again to call things just slightly wrong. 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; and it’s the case Martin can’t answer.
The shocking contained denouement comes as the set’s walls start moving in, shutting up the mausoleum certainly but 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. Outstanding.