Sunset at the Villa Thalia

Calling the run-down Greek shack that acts as the entire setting of this play a 'Villa' and then naming it after Thalia (representing comedy as the Greek Goddess of Festivity), American Government Agent Harvey tells his new friend - British playwright Theo - that it should be his muse to "write something provocative, satirical and funny". This - along with the lengthy opening speeches on the importance of the theatre to be able to challenge the "little man" - seems a rather unsubtle way of setting-up Alexi Kaye Campbell's approach to the play before us. Disappointingly however, Sunset at the Villa Thalia fails to provoke, is extremely light with any satire and is far from challenging, though at times it manages to amuse in the manner of a gently inoffensive comedy drama.

With the themes of the play covering politics, lies, love, lust and secrets and all in the blistering heat of the Greek sun, this should all be constantly bubbling under the surface and make us feel hot under the collar.

Two mismatched couples arrive at Skiathos for widely differing reasons - to create art for Theo and wife Charlotte and to (possibly) help create the coup of 1967 that brought down Greece's Government (and the country) for Harvey (whilst seemingly the draw was merely cheap alcohol for his wife Julia). They first talk - at length - on the eve of this coup and, after making revelations about themselves and each other, as well as some big life decisions, talk again 9 years later following the assassination of a CIA Agent in Athens. Presumably they have also talked in the intervening years although it's not clear why they would or even if their relationship or knowledge of each other has changed over time. There's no clear reason for any friendship, no common ground, no chemistry in how they interact - instead they simply tell us about events, feelings and actions in order to force us to believe they are true, alleviating any requirement to show us depth and make our own minds up.

We are told Harvey is persuasive and a good judge of character ("it's his job") which must be acceptable enough for the other couple to not only allow him into their lives but to convince them to take advantage of the emigrating Greeks, buy their house for pennies (against only a moment to question their own morals) and to pursue their artistic dreams at the cost of others' lives. His personality and beliefs are borderline offensive and his arguments far from strong, but we are told different. We are told there is a mutual attraction between Harvey and Charlotte but find the words surprising as there is no display of any sexual chemistry. We're told he has seen things that cause him pain and that he's a "good man who has done bad things" (not the most original line) but can only assume that's true because he tells us this rather than because of how he acts - there's no sign of hidden nightmares or coldness this may have caused.

In all fairness, the cast do a good job delivering lines that either jump all over the place (from polite to angry to upset to sexual and back again without any susceptible arc of where the change came from) - or that are preceded by more uses of "remember what we said", "then xxx happened like this" or "from what you told me" that can ever be truly conversational. Indeed an audience member close by said how pleased she was that "you can hear every line they say" which is praise of sorts. The denouement really pushes these boundaries of believability in what we are being told, in a poignant story that is given so much unnecessary detail whilst pertaining to be basic facts picked up from a non-English speaking local. Perhaps the characters are also fluent bilinguals, though as they didn't tell me this, I can't be sure.

With the themes of the play covering politics, lies, love, lust and secrets and all in the blistering heat of the Greek sun, this should all be constantly bubbling under the surface and make us feel hot under the collar. But by simply telling us things rather than allowing us to find out for ourselves and empathising with what we are being shown, there is very little heat in this particular sunset.

Reviews by Simon Smith

Dorfman Theatre

Home, I'm Darling

★★
Olivier Theatre

Exit the King

Royal Court Theatre

Pity

★★
National Theatre

The Lehman Trilogy

★★★★★
Lyttelton Theatre

Julie

★★★★
Olivier Theatre

Translations

★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

April 1967: Greece is in political turmoil.

Charlotte and Theo have retreated to a small island in search of peace and inspiration. But when they meet a charismatic American couple at the port they are seduced into making choices with devastating consequences.