Wednesday, June 22, 2016


James Karas

Sunset at the Villa Thalia
by Alexi Kaye Campbell
Directed by Simon Godwin
Designed by Hildegard Bechtler

Theo                            SAM CRANE
Charlotte                    PIPPA NIXON
Harvey                        BEN MILES     
June                            ELIZABETH McGOVERN                                   
Maria                          GLYKERIA DIMOU                  
Stamatis                      CHRISTOS CALLOW
Agape                          EVE POLYCARPOU

Continues at the Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre,
South Bank, London England.

*** (out of 5)

A nice English couple meets an ugly American and his wife on a Greek island and the Greeks pay the price. That is a crude summary of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Sunset at the Villa Thalia now playing at the National Theatre in London.

Theo, a playwright, and his wife Charlotte, an actress, are vacationing on the island of Skiathos. They meet Harvey and June, an American couple, who happen to be on the island. The Americans visit the English couple at the house that they are renting. Harvey is loud, aggressive, obnoxious but not stupid. He loves the theatre and is aware of history, democracy and civilization.

Ben Miles, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Crane and Pippa Nixon.. 
Photo: Jane Hobson/Rex/Shutterstoc
The house is rented from Stamatis and his granddaughter Maria. They are emigrating to Australia and in dire financial straits. Harvey suggests that Theo and Charlotte buy the house at a bargain basement price. Maria does not want to sell because she promised her grandmother to look after the house. Stamatis insists on selling and the English couple buys the house for almost nothing.

Up to this point there are a few decent lines about Greek drinks and a moving scene when Maria tells Charlotte of her feelings for the house and the promise she made to her grandmother.

But it is April 1967. Army tanks roll into downtown Athens and a group of army officers take over the government of Greece. Harvey, we learn, is a U.S. State Department “floater”. We quickly deduce that he is a CIA operative who engineers regime changes in “unfriendly” countries. We also learn that Harvey has heard people being tortured and his conscience bothers him or at least he has difficulty forgetting the high-pitched screams of people subjected to unimaginable pain. He only heard. Never participated, we suppose. When he hears of the coup in Greece he registers no surprise but quickly glances at his watch. Coup d’état on schedule.

Nine years later the two couples meet again on the island. A few things have changed. Charlotte and Theo have a couple of children, the Greek junta is gone and Chile has happened to Harvey. Where was Harvey in the last few years? He was defending democracy in various places but especially in Chile where democracy was restored by overthrowing the elected government, putting an army general in power and having a few people jailed or disappear in the process. It’s all in defence of democracy.

In the nine year interval Theo’s plays have become politicized and Harvey’s and American complicity and duplicity in the defence of democracy have become more egregious, if that is possible. June is aware of a pianist who lived next door to them in Chile who was taken by the police and never seen again. She recalls his mother grieving and wailing for her son. And, by the way, Harvey and June are having marital issues. His conscience still bothers him but there is no evidence that his conviction that what he is doing is right has been dampened at all.

Theo and Charlotte become curious about what happened to Stamatis and Maria in Australia. The result was not pleasant and Maria may have gone into prostitution.

The final scene is a dramatic and unexpected flashback which I will not disclose.

Campbell has added some personal touches to this highly political play. Charlotte is attracted to Harvey and that is why she invited the couple to their home in the first place. Harvey is attracted to Theo but insists that he is not gay. He kisses Theo on the mouth when they depart. The sexual interactions are gratuitous, undeveloped and perhaps unnecessary. I expected someone to jump in bed with someone’s spouse before then end of the play but no one did.

The treatment of the Greeks is patronizing and unacceptable. Stamatis is loud, ill-tempered and almost abusive to his granddaughter. Yes, those colourful Greeks, they make such fine caricatures for English drama. Maria is sweet and submissive but not “one of us” – just an interesting specimen found on a Greek island.

Theo and June are sketched lightly and although they are attractive Campbell does not give them much substance. June with her platinum blonde hair gets credit for enduring her husband’s nightmares and being sexually dumped by him but aside from that she is almost a cardboard figure. Harvey is developed as a classic American who believes that he is in fact fighting the dirty but necessary war to protect our way of life, carrying the burden of the ugly but again necessary side of the struggle but never coming to grips with reality.

A rather sketchy play, decently performed, but if you want to comment on Greece you cannot present Greeks as stage caricatures however well-meant the effort may be.

And a small point: Greece did not remain neutral during World War I. It fought on the side of the Entente.

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