Review: The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Charlotte Waygood 31 January 2019
Image Credit: The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

★★★★

It is a well-known fact of life that everyone experiences love differently. Martin (Gabriel Wheble) in The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? is no exception. His unusual love affair with a goat becomes known to his family and friends in a play with intense emotion and wicked dark humour.

The play is claustrophobic, only taking place in one room, but its cast of just four members brings the movement and energy that the setting lacks. Martin and Stevie’s (Anna Bullard) relationship is touching and authentic, although I find it hard to believe that the couple are in their fifties. Wheble skilfully portrays his character’s remorselessness about his bestiality, and both Wheble and Bullard use great comedic timing to suddenly change the mood when this becomes especially gruesome. Martin’s obsession with correct grammar also feeds into these disorientating dramatic shifts. Whenever his best friend Ross (Charlie Morrell-Brown) or Bullard’s Stevie evasively refer to Sylvia as “the goat who you’re f***ing”, he snaps back with an emphatic “whom”.

The script is split into three parts, each of which displays the relationship between Martin and another member of his inner circle, giving each actor an opportunity to shine. Ben Galvin delivers a charming performance as the teenage son Billy, convincingly conveying his insecurity and sensitivity.

Jess Hollerton’s set design is particularly impressive: the white walls of the room, combined with harsh white lighting, create a sense of interrogation as Martin is forced to reveal ever more about his activities. The actors also use space in the ‘L’ shaped Corpus Playroom creatively. Many props, from a statue of a naked body to a furry white rug thrown over a chair, serve to remind the audience either of sexuality or the goat. As Martin repeatedly asserts that he loves his wife and the goat in the same way, this parallel is reinforced by Stevie’s pale costume with its connotations of the goat’s own white fur. The audience watches with morbid fascination as the set is destroyed, prop by prop, during Stevie and Martin’s argument.

I also like director Ben Vince’s decision to accompany most of the play with no soundtrack; it intensifies the relationships between the characters, focusing our attentions onto their words and actions. It is almost disappointing for the uncomfortable silence to be broken by music during scene changes.

The combination of a fantastic script and very capable actors makes the audience laugh out loud as the play breaks social taboo after social taboo, covering serious themes while shocking the audience in every way it can. I would definitely recommend seeing this play.