REVIEW: THEBES LAND (Arcola Theatre) ★★★★


THEBES LAND is about a playwright, simply known as T, who is writing a play about a true case of patricide. He’s visiting a prison where an inmate, Martin Santos, is persuaded, unwillingly, to open up about his dreadful crime. The same actor who plays Martin Santos also plays the character Freddie, an actor who has won an audition to play Martin in the play that T is writing. The play we are watching. T is the storyteller. He explains to the audience what has happened while Martin/Freddie stays in character.

Despite being let down on promises by the prison authorities, such as when Martin’s permission to attend a public performance is withdrawn, T and Martin persevere and bit by bit, tease out the story.

THEBES LAND is about friendship and guilt. It is about a semi-literate young man, physically and mentally abused by a dreadful father, who finally snaps and kills him and, as a consequence of which, he will spend the rest of his life in prison. It is also, at the same time, about the young actor playing this complex character. The actor, Freddie is by nature, easy going and a bit naive, very much the opposite of the character he plays in the play within the play.

The entire play takes place in the prison exercise yard, a square area surrounded by a high, mesh security fence. Inside the exercise yard, there is a basketball hoop on which Martin/Freddie practices throwing a basketball.

Despite Martin’s sometimes aggressive behaviour, he and T get along quite well and become friends (of a sort). However their relationship is slightly muddied by Martin’s sometimes aggressive, threatening character which suddenly changes to the gentle, friendly actor Freddie, and back again at unexpected times.

THEBES LAND was written by the brilliant Franco-Uruguayan author Sergio Blanco who, incidentally, was present at this performance and received a great ovation from the audience. Blanco now lives in Paris and has won more awards for playwriting than we have room to list here.

The acting from Trevor White who plays T is excellent and Alex Austin who plays Martin/Freddie is exceptionally fine. Definitely a play to see. This has already been produced in many countries in South America and Europe to great acclaim.

The Arcola Theatre is an excellent venue, small, friendly and comfortable and well worth a visit.

Reviewed by Graham Archer
Photo: Alex Brenner

THEBES LAND plays at the Arcola Theatre until 23 December 2016