Sunset At The Villa Thalia Reviewed: Greek Tragedy Made Fun

Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National Theatre ★★★★☆

By Chris Bridges Last edited 28 months ago
Sunset At The Villa Thalia Reviewed: Greek Tragedy Made Fun Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National Theatre 4

The austerity in Greece has yielded enough bleak human drama to program a season of woeful political plays at The Royal Court. Alexi Kaye Campbell, author of the 2008 multi-award winner The Pride, felt so compelled to write about the problems of his motherland that he moved to Greece to write his fifth play. The result is remarkable.

He's studied his history again, and has taken an interesting route to examining the genesis of the fate of Greece. He begins with a pivotal date: April 1967, the start of right wing military repression. Unless you're a fan of modern European history, then so far so dull, but don't start dozing yet. Political plays can take many forms and this one is via fascinating human drama. Think more David Hare at his zenith than Caryl Churchill at her nadir.

The story is played out in matching pairs like a sprawling international fixture. There's the earnest English couple, full of naïve optimism renting out a dilapidated villa in order to write, ponder and rest. Throw in the overbearing Americans with outspokenness issues and a penchant for alcohol and then await the arrival of a Greek father and daughter who are about to emigrate. The dialogue is both terse and amusing and the characters transcend lazy stereotypes. The power plays and shifts in tensions are immaculately scripted and played out. It’s a joy to watch but the interplay has subtext that leaves a residue of unease.

The villa is revisited nine years later and the disturbing comedy of manners continues in a darker hue. There's lots of shuffling in and out of the villa, strolling to the beach and popping upstairs in order to engineer duologues but rather than appearing like the manoeuvrings of cheap farce this adds to the air of dangerous folly.

The National has assembled a cast with pedigree including Sam Crane (Farinelli and the King) and RSC regular Pippa Nixon. Elizabeth McGovern portrays a convincing lush who is worlds away from The Countess of Grantham. The show stealer has to be Ben Miles who has moved on from Wolf Hall to play a ruthless yet sympathetic character with seductive panache. Ultimately, the star is the almost faultless script and Kaye Campbell proves his worth as a writer.

Who knew that an examination of Greece's susceptibility to foreign influence could be so intriguing and entertaining?

Sunset at the Villa Thalia continues at The National Theatre until 4 August. Tickets are £15-£55 with a limited number of discounts for each performance. More information can be found on the National Theatre website. Londonist attended on a complimentary press ticket.

Last Updated 02 June 2016