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Thebes Land review at the Arcola Theatre, London – ‘a rare treat’

Trevor White and Alex Austin in Thebes Land at the Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Trevor White and Alex Austin in Thebes Land at the Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

What drives a son to kill his father? That’s the question at the heart of Sergio Blanco’s Thebes Land, a dark, slippery Latin American import about a damaged young patricide and the curious writer determined to tell his story. It’s an exquisitely crafted play, metatheatrical and multi-layered from start to finish, and adaptor-director Daniel Goldman deserves huge credit for bringing it to the British stage.

On Jemima Robinson’s caged basketball court set, pseudo-intellectual writer ‘T’ (Trevor White) and endearingly polite actor Freddie (Alex Austin) recreate a series of erratic, wide-ranging conversations held between T and an inmate of Belmarsh prison. An inmate serving a life sentence for murdering his abusive father. By stabbing him 21 times. With a fork.

There’s a lot going on here: a stirring portrait of a cruelly neglected child, a witty caricature of a conceited, Dostoyevsky-quoting writer, and a delightfully delicate theatrical guessing game. As a dissection of the motivations behind patricide, Thebes Land has little to offer besides crudely rehashed Freudian theory. But as an investigation into manipulative storytelling and the limits of artistic license, it’s utterly compelling, owing an obvious debt to Bennett Miller’s 2005 film Capote in its intriguing depiction of a relationship teetering between redemption and exploitation.

Far from a festive crowd-pleaser perhaps, but this morbidly fascinating, delectably sophisticated two-hander is a rare treat nonetheless. Two and a half hours fly by.


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Absorbing, intelligent, metatheatrical two-hander exploring patricide