Review: The Goat or Who is Sylvia?

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The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? is Edward Albee’s disturbing tragedy which explores the morality of human beings when faced with issues of sexuality, pedophilia, incest, rape and most significantly, bestiality.

The play is being performed as part of Brasenose’s Arts Week which will commence in third week. It will appear alongside other plays such as Noel Coward’s Hay Fever.  I would, however, suggest that the Goat or Who Is Sylvia? willhave the most lasting effect upon audiences, due to its controversial and unsettling nature.

This play introduces us to Martin, a middle aged, world famous architect. Stevie, Martin’s wife of twenty years, is still madly in love with her husband and they both adore their teenage son, Billy. All of the characters are thoroughly content with family life. However, their world is shattered when Martin’s best friend Ross raises the question, ‘Who is Sylvia?’ at the end of Act 1. The response to this question consumes all of the characters for the rest of the play; for Sylvia is not only Martin’s lover but also a goat.

Martin’s neurotic hand movements together with the continual shaking of his leg, indicate he is unstable from the start. He is a tormented soul, trapped in a nightmare of moral oblivion, with no clear way out. Tom Dawling plays this character exceptionally well, creating a suitable balance between solitary depression and outbursts of real hysteria. Sarah Abdoo, as Stevie, cleverly portrays a mixture of anger and shock and her scathing attack on her husband is effectively manifested through her calm, yet blistering tone.

The most memorable scene of the play, for me, was that between Ross (Josh Dolphin) and Martin, where Martin reveals that his lover is a goat. Dolphin’s disgusted yet disbelieving expressions created an emotional scene, foreshadowing the breakdown of more relationships in Act 2.  With the exception of the odd slip away from the predominantly very convincing American accents, the cast have little to work on.

The play all takes place in one, initially very tidy sitting room, though by the end the set mirrors the disorder of the characters’ lives. The second half dragged on a bit, losing momentum at some points, simply because only one topic consumes every conversation; bestiality. The constant use of the word ‘fuck’ in multiple different contexts became slightly monotonous at times but in its literal sense was apt for a play overpowered by different forms of sexuality. In the final moments of the play, a further disturbing twist grabbed my attention. By the end, the audience looked physically drained- this is no play for the faint-hearted but most definitely worth a watch. 

FOUR STARS

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