The Goat, or Who is Sylvia
Edward Albee's plays are often bound by the common thread of marital discord, perhaps his most famous example being the classic Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Frequently his protagonists offer the picture of initial domestic harmony soon exposed as tentative at best when dormant passions or tensions rise to the surface.
The Goat first opened at the Almeida after a Broadway run in 2002. Its controversial subject (about a man's passionate affair with a goat!) inevitably provoked some criticism but Albee is adamant that the play includes bestiality rather than actually about it, emphasising it's essentially 'is about love and loss…and the limits of tolerance.' Well and good if so, bbut the actual play doesn't really bear testament to this, certainly not in Anthony Page's production which pairs real-life partners Jonathan Pryce and Kate Fahy as a couple whose comfortable marriage is irrevocably shaken by the revelation of the husband's deeply bizarre 'affair'. The goat's name of Sylvia evokes some sort of pastoral idyll which is deeply ironic within this context.
Anything which challenges audience expectation is welcome and to engage with material that deals with the universal themes of love and loss is equally relevant, but grotesque subject aside, that play also needs to deliver in its own right and this it often singularly fails to do which is surprising from one who wrote the exquisitely poised A Delicate Balance and Three Tall Women.. As Martin and Stevie, Pryce and Fahy don't evoke enough emotional nuance and though Pryce is convincing as a man in the throes of something so overwhelming- and unexpected- it's literally throwing him off-balance, it's not in the scenes between him and his wife but in the ones with his gay son Billy that there's some real resonance. Eddie Redmayne, who anchors the play, gives a sensitive and pitch perfect performance as the teenage son torn between love for his parents and revulsion at the event that has driven them apart.
The Goat's central flaw is that while it undeniably provokes it doesn't satisfy as a piece of theatre and the melodramatic conclusion merely underlines this.
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "The Goat, with its persistent undertow of humour, is as humane as it is provocative." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Albee, the clever technician, is... playing artful games with the audience's levels of tolerance." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says , "leaves one emotionally shattered." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Some theatregoers will hate this play. Many more will love it. None, I suspect, will ever forget it." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Myself, I felt disturbed and queasy but was at least made to wonder why. Isn't that what living drama is supposed to be about?" ALASTAIR MACAULAY for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "The finest staging of an Albee play I have seen...Crazy though this may sound, Albee's tale about a man who had sex with a goat is intensely moving."