Thebes Land
By Sergio Blanco
Translated and adapted by Daniel Goldman
Published by Oberon Books
Arcola Theatre
Photography by Alex Brenner
Julia Pascal

 

Sergio Blanco’s hugely ambitious text is a clever conceit.  It is the story of T. a middle-aged man driven to investigate the theme of Oedipus for his new play.  He does this by interviewing a young prisoner who is serving several life sentences for murdering his father.

The text works on many levels of deconstruction of the Greek myth.  Blanco’s central theatrical device is to have the prisoner, and the performer who realises him, embodied in one actor.  Lines are blurred.  What is acting and what is real?  What is patricide and what is the justifiable murder of a man who brutalises his son?  Did Sophocles really write the thesis that was to be the heart of Sigmund Freud’s analysis or did Freud invent a theory that does not bear investigation?  Blanco asks, if Oedipus did not know he was killing his father then did Freud get it wrong?  The text is intellectually demanding and these questions are phrased and rephrased throughout the work.

Thebes Land originates in Uruguay and is translated for international audiences.  However, in this English version, I worried that the strongly Catholic aesthetic sits uneasily in a geographical desert where the playwright is Canadian and the prisoner/actor speaks with a camp suburban London voice.  Where the play really takes off is when it embraces a male, gay aesthetic as being part of a canvas of erotic and tortured male saints, Catholic iconography and a direct link to Greek homosexuality.

Acting is excellent from Trevor White as the playwright and Alex Austin as the prisoner/actor and Jemima Robinson’s haunting cage-setting is certainly startling.  Blanco’s inventive script, with its sense of construction, deconstruction and repetition is stimulating.  The play ends with a kind of salvation and is surely true to its Catholic impulse.  Here the playwright’s erotic and familial love for a younger man becomes the healing process that redeems patriarchal male violence.

Julia Pascal © 2016.

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Thebes Land 5 Trevor White and Alex Austin Photo Alex Brenner
Thebes Land 6 Trevor White and Alex Austin Photo Alex Brenner
Thebes Land 7 Trevor White and Alex Austin Photo Alex Brenner
THEBES LAND 8 Trevor White and Alex Austin Photo Alex Brenner
Thebes Land 9 Trevor White and Alex Austin Photo Alex Brenner
(c) Alex Brenner, CASA-Arcola - Thebes Land @ Arcola
Thebes Land 1 Trevor White and Alex Austin Photo Alex Brenner
Thebes Land 3 Trevor White and Alex Austin Photo Alex Brenner
Thebes Land 4 Trevor White and Alex Austin Photo Alex Brenner
Thebes Land 5 Trevor White and Alex Austin Photo Alex Brenner