Two shows written by the same writer are minutes away from each other. There’s the one that is super gripping, superbly written and witty called Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (review here) and then there’s the other one that will have people flinching within the first few minutes and rolling their eyes after the first hour.
As many theatre lovers will know, the theatre is that special place where there are no rules. There are no expectations, guidelines or laws to govern how the storytelling should go. The stage is a blank space where great ideas are discussed, audiences learn something new and grapple with concepts and subjects they wouldn’t come across in their day-to-day; perhaps it would be too inappropriate for the workplace or even the family table. Edward Albee’s Goat is a fabulous example of that – the limitless possibilities of theatre, which may involve provoking and shocking audiences.
Here is the spoiler. A fifty-year-old husband, father and successful architect, on the edge of losing his memory, falls in love with another female and has an affair. As far as theatre is concerned you’d think to yourself, what can be so provocative and shocking about a man falling in love with someone else? Sometimes it is just a sub-plot or a footnote in theatre plots, but the bombshell is something considered illegal in several countries and states in America. This husband hasn’t only cheated on his wife and engaged in extramarital activities, he has done this all with a domestic farm animal – a female goat to be exact, called Sylvia.
On the night I attended, the show received a mixture of noises and reactions from the audience up in the cheap seats. Side note, but worth stating: I thought the Royal Haymarket’s £15 seats were b****y uncomfortable. If you ever thought the London Coliseum’s balcony seats were bad, think again. Many were moving in their seat uncomfortably given the lack of a seat to actually sit on and little legroom. Yet the view and acoustics were good enough to see everything that was happening on stage.
Ian Rickson’s stage is a copper brown living room with wooden floors and various furnishings and ceramic pieces that would be found in any typical designer’s lavish home. There in the pristine setting is first-class TV and film actor Damian Lewis (Wolf Hall, HomeLand, Billions) as our middle-aged architect, and his American accent.
Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) has her own TV and stage accolades too and gives an astonishing performance as betrayed and distraught wife. Her portrayal is more than convincing. It often seems as if she is accusing her husband of simply cheating on him as the indecent act. The goat part seems less of a concern. It is easy to pity her and his troubled son, yet Lewis’s character requires much more eye squinting and finger chewing.
Being the complicated character – the one that describes a goat ‘beguiling’ and ‘innocent’, attends animal bestiality Anonymous meetings and believes there’s a genuine connection between him and the goat – one thinks of the boundless and cosmic mind of the play’s writer.
There were other parts of the script that made me feel uncomfortable and had audiences sit right back in their seats and gasp. Of course there was laughter too, but that took part mostly in the first section of the play.
It was a mixture of different reactions. One thing that is certain is the play’s capacity to push the audience to try and see the architect’s worldview and understand his own comprehension of his fixation for a goat. What starts off as a joke, turns nasty, aggressive and bloody.
With no interval for 120 minutes, there is no way to get out of the auditorium but hold on, get stuck in and discover how you may react to a man’s conviction, feelings and sexuality for an animal.
Don’t get me wrong, it begins with a funny and solid start, and Lewis and Okonedo have unrivalled acting abilities that make them the performing artists they are much talked of. Halfway through though, you’ll see the destruction of a beautiful marriage verbally and physically break down on set. You may also hear a lot of grumpy noises coming from horrible, agonizing seats.
I shall never look at a goat the same way, ever again.