SUNSET AT THE VILLA THALIANational Theatre at the Dorfman
Thalia, the muse of comedy, is the name playwright Theo [Sam Crane] chooses for the Greek home he acquires on the island of Skiathos, almost by accident, at the start of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play.
Theo's work is described as “quietly political”, Campbell's is rather more overtly so – the Aegean idyll is disturbed by an American couple, encountered by chance at the airport; the military coup of 1967 is imminent. CIA agent Harvey – a great performance from Ben Miles – is uncomfortably assertive, meddling with the lives of the two naïve Brits, his manipulative machinations masquerading as kindness and generosity. The subtext, surely, is the tendency of the US to wade in to impose its will on weaker nations, defining democracy to suits its own ends.
The four meet up again nine years later. Theo and the restless Charlotte [Pippa Nixon] have two children; Harvey has been scarred by the part he played in the overthrow of Allende. He cruelly reveals to his hosts the fate of the family whose house they bought for a song on the eve of the Generals' coup.
The action sometimes seems a little contrived. The sun sets slowly at the end of each act. But all the performances are polished and perceptive; Elizabeth McGovern, tall and slender in blue, is wonderful as June, Harvey's hard-drinking wife.
Simon Godwin's production brings out the best in Campbell's play, against Hildegard Bechtler’s hyper-realistic Skiathos setting.