Review: Thebes Land @ Arcola Theatre

THEBES-LAND-6-Trevor-White-and-Alex-Austin-Photo-Alex-Brenner(photo by Alex Brenner)

Thebes Land is hard to review – on the one hand, one does not want to spoil any of the gripping narrative, on the other, it seems impossible to explain this meta-theatrical conundrum of a play. After winning the 2016 Off West End Award for Best Production, Thebes Land returns to the Arcola Theatre as part of CASA, a Latin American theatre festival. A brilliant production, it is incredibly warped, darkly funny and completely fascinating.

In this work by Franco-Uruguayan writer Sergio Blanco, which for this staging has been skillfully adapted by director Daniel Goldman to take place in London, playwright T visits Martin Santos in prison. Martin is serving a life sentence for killing his father; T wants to stage his story. As the two men get to know each other and opening night draws near, their stories intertwine and unravel and the audience is taken on a journey exploring not just patricide but the nature of theatre, religion, Dostoyevsky and, of course, Oedipus.

In an ingenious feat of set design, the piece is staged inside a giant metal cage. At times, this creates a great tension between the actors and the audience; at others, it serves to make theatregoers feel safe. Security cameras feed their recordings onto screens, and with those images inside a cage inside an auditorium inside a larger building, the whole setting seems to mimic the multiple-reality nature of the narrative. The actors are utterly beguiling in their naturalistic ability and give very strong performances. Their commitment allows the many highbrow cultural references not to jar and makes spectators question over and over whether what is going on right in front of them is real or not.

A challenging and not always pleasant night out, Thebes Land fits in many moments of tenderness and humour among the morbidity. To anyone who wants to be put through their paces as an audience member, enjoys inventive new explorations of age-old themes or would like to see everything they thought they knew about storytelling twist and turn in front of them, this show is highly recommended.

Thebes Land is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 7th October 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

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