The Goat

 The Goat or Who is Sylvia? - The Shelley Theatre, Bournemouth. (Friday 29th March) 

Once again Bournemouth’s excellent Arena Theatre shows that it has what it takes to make the very most of challenging material. Edward Albee’s The Goat is a clever, witty and probing play that explores sexual taboos and dark psychological territory. It navigates a fine line between farce and domestic horror. In the wrong hands it could fail spectacularly. Not here.

In this production directed by Grae Westgate we find Martin, a successful and prosperous architect, marking his 50th birthday with the mother of all mid-life crises - he’s fallen in love with a goat called Sylvia.

Not surprisingly his wife, Stevie, reacts in anger and horror as she realises that the man she loves is having an affair with a farmyard animal. Worse still he’s trying to justify it.

With fine acting from Matthew Ellison as Martin and Lottie Fletcher -Jonk as Stevie we watch as their perfect middle class life disintegrates. Not just their marriage but their relationships with their gay teenage son, Billy, (Stephanie Brewer) and close family  friend Ross (Ancor Figueras Ramos) are hurled into an emotional abyss.

Billy is furious, confused and conflicted. However loyalties remain. But for Ross there is no acceptance. His clever, talented friend has crossed a line from which there can be no return. Meanwhile much of the set is trashed as Stevie vents her fury.

Beautifully written by the man who brought us Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, this is a play that pushes the boundaries in its quest to examine the parameters of social norms and how the pressures of society and success itself can lead to strange displacement activities. It’s a Greek tragedy for the 21st century.

It is clear that while the liberal elite can cope with most things (say drugs, alcohol and extra-marital sex) with barely the bat of an eyelid, getting into goats is, thankfully, way out of bounds.

Jeremy Miles

© Jeremy Miles 2022