Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 7 – 12, 2015
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Barry Walsh
Cast: Jeremy Burtenshaw, Kiki Skountzos, Johnny Nolan, Mathew Rope
Examining the relationship between morals and sex is a boundless task, but also an exceedingly rewarding one. Looking closely at our attitudes surrounding the most fundamental of desires reveals almost everything there is to know about being human, especially the way we formulate beliefs and ideals. In Edward Albee’s The Goat Or Who Is Sylvia?, we encounter at close range, one of the most shocking of our taboos, and are forced to evaluate the rules of society, sexual and otherwise, along with the ways in which we uphold them. The script is outrageous and wild, transgressive and radical. It ignores notions of taste and belligerently challenges its audience, but grounds its arguments firmly in logic. The combination of intellect and sensationalist amusement in the play addresses the nature of theatre perfectly; we are captivated and entertained, but it refuses to let our participation in the work be a passive one. Questions are raised, and whether we like it or not, it pushes our boundaries to get us to the appropriate answers.
Barry Walsh’s direction lacks refinement, but his flamboyant and fearless approach to the material conveys the text’s progressive ideologies charmingly. There is an infectious joyfulness in the subversive tone that pervades the work, but Walsh takes care in preventing its aggression from becoming unbearable for regular audiences. When the production is at its strongest, we are uplifted by its refreshing philosophy and daring suggestions, but at its weakest, performances can feel stilted and its comedy underdeveloped. Cast members are full of conviction, with Kiki Skountzos’ work as Stevie leaving the strongest impression. Energetic and precise, her ability to blend light and dark in the blackest of comedies is perhaps the most polished aspect of this staging. Jeremy Burtenshaw’s kooky interpretation of his role Martin, is an enjoyable one, but the actor is not always convincing playing a man twice his own age. There is insufficient depth in the presentation of his character’s predicament, but its very absurd and unnerving nature helps the actor’s performance connect firmly with our attention.
Great artists have the courage and eloquence to speak up and tell society what it does wrong. They show us the arbitrariness and the irrationality of our beliefs and conventions, and aim to find restoration based on ideas that are truer, kinder and more inclusive of the different types of people that we inevitably are. The issues that The Goat Or Who Is Sylvia? discusses are difficult and messy. We are not allowed to respond with convenient and tired pre-made solutions, but are encouraged to go through a process of deliberation that is often agonising and disarming. This show is the furthest possible thing from boring, and its ridiculous comedy is the absolute antithesis of stupidity. It requires an adventurous spirit and an open mind to tackle, which explains why it finds itself tucked away in the obscure depths of Sydney’s independent theatre.