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Thebes Land


Thebes Land at The Arcola Theatre, London

“It ticks all the boxes”

A three-metre high cage separates us from Martin, a convicted killer. He’s a troubled young man, never receives visitors, orphaned. Cancer killed his mother, he killed his father. All he has, when allowed into this cage, is a basketball and the hoop to aim for.

There are no Hannibal Lecter moments, but that is for the better. ‘T’ introduces him to us. He is a writer/director and putting on a play about Martin.

Thebes Land is a play-within-a-play-within-a-play. Moments are created and recreated. Sometimes the audience are involved, mostly we watch events unfold. It’s part lecture, part biography, part autobiography, part drama.

One would think, therefore, that this overly-developed style is either too dumb or too clever for its own good. Instead, it is pitched perfectly to seamlessly flow into all the genres and leave before it gets too settled.

There are four quarters, plus overtime. The same length as a basketball match. The intelligence of the script doesn’t stop there, though. Thebes, Oedipus, the introduction of Freddie (the actor playing Martin now plays an actor playing Martin). Plus the surveillance cameras, their ‘live’ feeds shown on screens above the cage, showing the action as it happens/happened.

Amazing how something so complicated can become so beautifully easy. This play won the Best Production at the 2016 OffWestEnd Awards and has reunited its original cast to open the 10th Casa Festival of Latin American Theatre. It was written was the Franco-Uruguayan Sergio Blanco, with the translation and adaptation by Daniel Goldman - who also directs.

A play that works on so many levels can over-complicate things, but Goldman keeps it just on the right side of believability. Staged like The Young Vic’s Yerma or the classic Trafford Tanzi, it’s basically in the round with the house lights up. There is nowhere to hide for the cast: Trevor White plays ‘T’, the likeable Hugh Laurie-esque storyteller; Alex Austin revels in the dark Martin and the lighter Freddie.

The is a stunning production. It makes you laugh, cry, think. It ticks all the boxes. Even though the audience spend all evening on the outside of the cage, looking in, we are, in reality, in there with them. Probing, searching, discovering. What we find may be scary, but it is common to us all.

At one point, T promises to send a postcard. Martin requests a picture of a moose. When we leave the auditorium, we are given feedback cards. What’s the picture on the front? What else!

Running time: 2 hours 15 (plus an interval).

Production Photographs: Alex Brenner.

Twitter: #ThebesLand, #casa2017, @CasaFestival, @ArcolaTheatre

Facebook: @CasaLatinAmericanTheatreFestival

Performances until 7th October 2017.

Venue: Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL. - 020 7503 1646.

Monday - Saturday 7.30pm

Saturday Matinees at 3pm

Tickets £10-£22 - Pay What You Can Tuesdays (limited allocation, in person from 6pm)

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