I knew I was in for a treat when even just watching The Goat’s video trailer – a mere one minute and seven seconds – was enough to leave me feeling viscerally disturbed the entire rest of the day. This more than anything sums up Minotaur Theatre Company’s The Goat or Who Is Sylvia: viscerally disturbing, profoundly impactful, and above all, masterfully portrayed.
A one-act play, Edward Albee’s The Goat, revolves around a seemingly normal family: middle-aged architect Martin, his wife Stevie, and their teenage son Billy. Their blissful normalcy is shattered upon the revelation that Martin is having an affair with a certain Sylvia. Not knowing anything about The Goat, suddenly realising the connection between the title and the “countryside” mentioned in Martin’s pivotal monologue well and truly whacked me between the eyes.
The Goat packs a punch mentally, physically, and emotionally, crammed with subversive and profoundly challenging subject matter and themes, all masterfully wrangled by Alexander Wiseman and Caroline Croft. The story unfurls with slow creeping horror as the full depths of Martin’s depravity is revealed.The Goat is assuredly not light entertainment, and the directorial team should be commended for their fine work.
Upon entering the Drama Studio, I was surprised at how small the stage was, and immediately had my doubts about the efficiency of the space. Those doubts soon disappeared – the small performance space was perfectly suited to the intimate, pressure-cooker nature of the play. The set design was a fantastic combination of practicality and symbolism, contained entirely within the living room of Martin and Stevie’s house. Enraged and bewildered at her husband’s “infidelity”, so to speak, Stevie sets about systematically destroying the objects and furniture around them as the confrontation with her husband escalates, destroying their physical world just as their inner equilibrium deteriorates.
Each and every single one of the play’s four actors should be showered with praise. The aforementioned Stevie, played by Alice Porteous, is impressively commanding and charismatic, providing the perfect foil for her husband while individuating herself as a distinctly reactive, deeply vulnerable character. The pivotal role of Martin is played with utter aplomb by Jonathan Massey. Martin is a challenging role to play, balanced on knifepoints between bewildered vulnerability and indignant pride, to say nothing of how deeply and profoundly disturbed he turns out to be, and Massey juggles this array of emotions spectacularly well. Massey and Porteous’s onstage chemistry was brilliant, and truly elevated their masterful performance of this difficult, delightful couple. It is a true testament to the actors involved that, even amidst such challenging themes, they could still elicit genuine humour and laughter from the audience with their wry wit. Well done!
Also worth commending is the stellar emotional performance by Ben Prudence as Billie. Perfectly encapsulating the stubborn teenage boy persona, Prudence skilfully navigates the transition from normalcy to utter emotional disarray, culminating in brief shared intimacy with his father. Prudence’s commitment and dedication to the role really shines through. Joe Kirk plays Ross, the character indirectly responsible for inciting the family’s confrontation, and carries off his role as self-aggrandising, somewhat pompous bystander to great effect. Ross provides a gratifying breath of fresh air amongst the chaos and creepiness of family dissolution and bestiality, and Kirk should be commended for his stellar performance.
There is no doubt that this is a challenging production. Minotaur Theatre Company is meticulous about outlining the various warnings associated with this show, from bestiality to homophobia to domestic violence. From a more modern perspective, some might criticise Albee for seeming to equate pedophilia and homosexuality, and implying that latent homosexuality may be indirectly responsible for the family’s dissolution. This unfortunate undertone does date the content somewhat. The Goat may provide a reflection on society – is the conflict just the product of one disturbed man, or is it an indictment that there’s something fundamentally wrong on a societal level? Is there a deeper allegory at play here?
There are far too many undercurrents, themes, and hidden depths to this play to fully unpack here. Brace yourselves, mentally prepare, and hurry down to the Drama Studio for a stunning performance which will leave you simultaneously challenged, horrified, and profoundly moved.