Sunset at the Villa Thalia – A new play by Alexi Kaye Campbell:
It’s 1967 on the Greek Island Skiathos, on the eve of the country’s military coup, the sun is blazing down on the idyllic courtyard of a tumbledown peasant cottage, where the young newly married liberal and arty English couple, Theo and Charlotte are holidaying. Theo, Sam Crane, with Pippa Nixon giving us a perfectly perky performance as moralist Charlotte, plays a rather ineffectual aspiring playwright believably. The pair befriend and invite over for drinks an American couple Harvey and June, a dizzy, bubbly blonde who enjoys a drink or two, played with witty aplomb by Elizabeth McGovern, in her first theatre role since she joined the cast of Downtown Abbey in 2009.
However, the star of the show is Ben Miles, (I particularly enjoyed his stage Cromwell in ‘Wolf Hall’) who literally holds the stage, playing Harvey, a charismatic, smarmy, pushy and rather superficial CIA agent, who informs us that he ‘works for the government’. Harvey quickly worms his way into the couple’s life and manages to persuade Theo and Charlotte to buy the villa for a pittance from the young Maria (played by newcomer Glykeria Dimou) and her Greek family who plan to emigrate to Australia for a better life, in the wake of an economic crisis.
The second half takes place 9 years later in 1976. Theo and Charlotte who now have two children and Harvey and June return for a visit. Harvey is a somewhat dispirited and broken man; post his return from Chile, after the overthrow of Chile’s president Allende. June is the unfulfilled and lonely wife and hitting the bottle hard. Tensions rise and Charlotte takes Harvey to task, for which he throws back at her with bucket loads of guilt for buying the Villa in the first place and taking the home off a local family for their own means.
We are led to believe that ultimately there is a strong, unconsummated but mutual attraction between Harvey and Charlotte, however, the sexual tension disappointingly just wasn’t there and it was hard to believe that the attraction existed at all, unlike Harvey’s man crush on Theo was very evident and charmingly endearing.
Writer Alexi Kaye Campbell who wrote the highly acclaimed, The Pride, was born to a Greek father and English mother and was brought up in Athens. Here he explores his home country during a time of political turmoil, considers the impact of foreign influence and the power play of politics, relationships and manipulation. Disappointingly the play shy’s away from the opportunity to show the suffering post-military coup, however, it can be forgiven by providing a perhaps more palatable attempt to explore the West’s interventions in Greek politics emblematically in the modern era.
Director Simon Goodman’s production makes an enjoyable evening out, but somehow never quite satisfies the depth of subject matter. However the performances were strong all round and there was humour and a pace, which kept me involved from start to finish.
Sunset at the Villa Thalia, now showing at The Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre, South Bank, London until August 4th, 2016.
All images credit Manuel Harlan