Sunset at the Villa Thalia** (National Theatre, Dorfman)

Posted: August 4, 2016 in Theatre

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Set on on the idyllic Greek island of Skiathos, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play is actually concerned with America, a country that. as the writer sees it, tramples all over ancient civilisations in order to achieve its own narrow objectives. In 1967, Theo (Sam Crane) and Charlotte (Pippa Nixon) are bullied into buying the villa that they have been renting from an impoverished Greek family by a brash American, Harvey (Ben Miles), who is something with the US Government in Athens. Nine years later, Harvey and his wife return to the villa after a spell in Chile, where there has been another American backed coup.

Theo is a playwright, working on something that sounds remarkably similar to Kaye Campbell’s own The Pride and Charlotte is an actress whose strong principles lead her to resist displacing Greeks from the island and breaking local traditions. They make a convincing couple and Miles attacks the role of the irresistible Theo forcefully. Harvey’s wife June is mostly wasted (meaning drunk), but, playing her, Elizabeth McGovern is wasted in the other sense, unable to find anything interesting in a weakly-drawn character.

As always, Kaye Campbell’s writing has a simple fluency that captivates, but, on this occasion, there are patches of laziness, particularly in long, dull speeches, firstly by June and then by Harvey, describing events in far off lands. More importantly, the connections between the story being told on stage and the underlying themes are not always clear and improbabilities in the plotting, small individually, add up to eat away at the play’s credibility.

With the Dorfman in a thrust stage configuration, Hildegard Bechtler’s unfussy design takes us effectively to a Greek island and Simon Godwin’s low key production offers many pleasures. However, the playwright’s previous works, The Pride and Bracken Moor, raised expectations high and this play is slightly disappointing.

Performance date: 30 July 2016

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