Do Not Pass Goat

ChupacabraThe Goat, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, Saturday 8th April 2017

El Chupacabra is a legendary, Latin-American creature. It is said to prowl the countryside at night looking to suck (‘chupar’) unsuspecting goats (‘cabra’) of their blood.

The anti-hero of Edward Albee’s ‘The Goat’ would identify closely with the mythical beast. Although Martin Gray is interested in bodily fluids other than the red stuff.

Martin may be a married man, a wildly successful architect, and the father of a seemingly well-adjusted and happily-out gay son.

He is also conducting a passionate physical and emotional love affair with Sylvia, the titular goat of the title.

That’s right, friends. This is a play about a man making love to a farm animal. Oh, yes, before I forget, he and his son get it on too, albeit briefly.

The Goat was easily, the most shocking, disturbing and disorienting play of the challenge.

It was also the one which triggered the most amount of discussion and debate with a friend immediately afterward. For Albee’s work does much more than shock and repulse, just as it ‘about’ much more than an inter-species hook-up.

‘The Goat’ is a modern deconstruction of the tragedy. Its title is a reference to the etymological roots of the word tragedy; goat-song, for reasons theorised about but not conclusively understood. Indeed, its alternative title is “Sylvia: Notes toward a definition of tragedy”.

Its hero has a fundamental flaw which will ultimately bring ruin and disgrace (sorry, that’s not a spoiler – you think it could possibly end well???), yet which he cannot bring himself to recognise as a problem.

From this premise, Albee spins a wonderful web of words, playing with repetition, grammatical pedantry, and allusions to other tragic and comic works.

Many descriptions of the play and specific reviews of this performance seem unsatisfied with ‘The Goat’ as a glorious, meta-textual ‘play’ on words. Critics have interpreted Martin’s obsession and the destruction of his family (again – not a spoiler – see above!) as metaphors for the crisis of liberalism, the limits of individuality, the brittle nature of social norms and much else besides.

I’m not convinced. I think The Goat is a brilliantly sustained exercise in linguistic playfulness and genre re-defining artistry. That’s what makes it great.

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