Reviewed – 11th September 2017
“The ease and skill with which Alex Austin characterises and physicalises his roles is a truly stunning “
Finally getting tickets for Thebes Land, after frustratingly missing it’s run at the Arcola earlier this year, my expectations were incredibly high; I am overjoyed to tell you that the production certainly did not disappoint. Hearing rumours of a man imprisoned for patricide appearing live on-stage to perform his story in a 3 metre high cage seemed a fascinating, if slightly unusual, method of storytelling, but the minutiae of the production went much further than a back-page scandal ‘Making A Murderer’ documentary piece, deconstructing and analysing the layers of theatre and mythology surrounding the issues of on-stage representation.
Thebes Land follows the development of a relationship between Martin Santos, a young man imprisoned for killing his father, and ’T’, a writer and actor creating a theatre piece around Martin’s story. Staged as a re-enactment of a series of interviews between ’T’ and Martin, taking place on a prison basketball court, we follow the creation of a play, ‘Thebes Land’, through which method we increasingly learn about the characters, and their relationship to the outside world. Myth, reality and meta theatrical commentary become a seductive and inseparable conglomerate, blurring the line between the real and the fictional, instead emphasising, above all, the human.
The set is simple, but incredibly effective. At the centre of the space stands a 3 metre high cage, fitted with the necessary security cameras and basketball hoop. This space not only naturalistically echoes the location of the meetings between Martin and ’T’, the prison basketball court, but forces us to witness a life in isolation and seclusion, with the spatial and emotional relationship between the characters playing out behind, through and outside of the caged bars. The four cameras lining the space play live on four screens at the top of the theatre, emphasising the act of spectatorship similar to both theatre and prisons, and adding a filmic layer to the characters’ transactions.
The performances are absolutely superb, and thoroughly convincing. A two-hander that managers to hold the audience in the palm of their hand for the entire run time, the beauty of this piece comes in the creation of connection between the two actors, leaving the audience doubtless that this is not ‘acting’ in the genteel sense of the word, but that we are witnessing an authentic truth of what it means to be a human. The ease and skill with which Alex Austin characterises and physicalises his roles is a truly stunning feat and the kind confidence of Trevor White is magnetic to watch.
Thebes Land is genuinely one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen this year, and I thoroughly recommend buying a ticket, if you can possibly get your hands on one! Not only is it storytelling at its best, but it is a piece with exponential room for analysis, with layers of understanding and complexity that lends itself to contemplation and deconstruction. A think piece at its core, Thebes Land holds up to the light the most primal instinct of all humanity, the instinct to survive and defend one’s self. With an effervescent mix of comedy and dramatic tension, this unmissable piece brings forth questions of family, friendship, connection and fate.
Reviewed by Tasmine Airey
Photography by Alex Brenner
is at The Arcola Theatre until 7th October
part of CASA Latin American Theatre Festival