Directed by Barry Walsh
King Street Theatre
644 King Street, Newtown
Season: 7 – 12 September
It is not often you hear about someone falling in love with a goat. It’s really rare to see a man come to terms with that love, and witness its unveiling to those closest to him. It is one seemingly ordinary man’s revelation and its aftermath that takes the stage in Barry Walsh’s production of The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? at the King Street Theatre, and I must say, it’s a thrill of a ride.
Walsh’s direction sustains a gripping tension throughout the play, managing to continually raise the stakes without missing a beat. Embellished with well-timed comic humour, a delightful balance is attained giving the audience a spoonful of sugar to help some of the less socially acceptable subject matter go down. This is an art, to engage the audience willingly in a forum deliberating on topics not so appropriate for the dinner table. Sure, it will make you squirm, it will shock you, and yet you will find yourself engrossed by a man’s turmoil as he is enlivened with passions that repulse society.
Kiki Skountzos possesses the stage with great chutzpah as Stevie. Coming to terms with the affront of her husband’s affair with a goat ignites a rage that entrances the observer. This is enhanced by her physical presence and interaction with the set and props. We see a woman utterly devastated by her husband’s choice, and yet resilient, coping with the news with an impeccable wry wit. Skountzos gifts us with an undoubtedly impressive performance. Mathew Rope takes on the role of Billy, Stevie and Martin’s son, bringing a richness to the stage. His mannerisms and subtlety in his performance help to ground the play in its humanity, heightening the realism in a situation that could so easily veer into the downright absurd. Billy’s interjections in the unfolding events inject humour into tense moments and yet simultaneously Rope contributes to the tragic layers of the work. We see Billy’s complex relationships with each character evolve as he contends with his own sexuality and this reckoning serves to move the audience.
The set design, by Emma Bonthorne, gives the initial impression of humdrum normalcy, much like the family’s dynamics at first glance. This idea is subverted as the environment is progressively obliterated in Stevie’s frustration, exhibiting the household’s radical deviance from the norm. The design integrated well with the actors and aided the generation of a kinetic energy to sustain the piece.
It takes a bold artist to successfully stage Albee’s The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? You can’t tiptoe around bestiality. Moreover, we shouldn’t tiptoe around taboo topics, as this gives rise to complacency and a docile acquiescence to the societal standards set out by a history of conforming to the norm. We must question, we must criticise, and if we can’t discuss bestiality in art, then I don’t know where we can discuss it. Walsh’s production engages with subject matter on the fringe of social acceptability, with an agile humour that hits the mark. I commend the audacity of the play – it is uncompromising, unapologetic, and reaps the rewards.