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Our cagey world of cruelty

THEBES LAND at Arcola Theatre

19 December, 2016 — By Leo Garib

Alex Austin in Thebes Land. PHOTO: ALEX BRENNER

FROM the moment we take our seats for this riveting two-hander about abuse and friendship, we are captives.

Dominating the stage is a giant locked cage with a basketball hoop. Banged up inside, a young man barely out of his teens. CCTV cameras beam his image onto screens.

We’re even told prison guards lurking are somewhere at the back to keep an eye on Martin, serving life in HMP Belmarsh for stabbing his father to death with a fork.

This story-within-a-story centres on Martin and ‘T’, an actor and writer who wants to make a groundbreaking play about Martin, starring Martin himself. When the Ministry of Justice stops Martin performing, T is forced to recruit an actor, Freddy, and the play becomes a play about making a play about Martin. Motives are exposed, a kind of love grows up and our complicity in Martin’s treatment is exposed.

Some of us were so roped in, that we remained seated during the interval, too guilty to grab a coffee while Martin (or is it Freddy?) is still locked in his cage.

Deftly written by Uruguayan Sergio Blanco and brilliantly adapted and directed by Daniel Goldman, Thebes Land holds a dark mirror to us. Why did the boy, pictured frolicking with his dad in the sea, commit patricide and is he really like Oedipus? What is T’s motivation and are we watching ourselves on stage?

Martin and Freddy are superbly portrayed by Alex Austin, who injects tearful pathos into the tragically inarticulate boy desperate for love. T, a self-serving man with a human heart, is brilliantly played by Trevor White. He leads us through the twists that beg the questions: how do we relate to our world of cages, CCTV and cruelty, and are we better than the characters we’re watching?

Goldman, co-director of the CASA Festival of South American theatre, hopes to take Thebes Land into prisons, like HMP Belmarsh.

“Of course, in a place like that we wouldn’t need the cage, just chalk lines to mark the boundaries,” he said. It would be a great human act but whether they get the go-ahead from the MoJ, brainchild of Tony Blair, David Cameron and Theresa May, is yet another question.

Until December 23
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