The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? The Almeida, London

But what does the nanny-goat see in this dried-up, nit-picking pedant?
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The Independent Culture

The illustrious career of Edward Albee's began with The Zoo Story . It continues now with what could be called "The Zoophilia Story". But this is no everyday tale of bestiality in the American suburbs.

Albee's protagonist, Martin, is at the pinnacle of life. He has the lot: a loving 22-year-old marriage, health, wealth and professional recognition in the shape of the world's top prize for architecture. Then he lays eyes on a goat called Sylvia and, well, she's everything he never even knew he wanted. Compliant to his sexual embraces, too.

Martin is at pains to convince his wife, Stevie, (who finds out about the other woman from a whistle-blowing friend) that he is not like the sad victims and inadequates who attend his animal lovers' therapy class. His passion for the goat is different in kind from their beggars-can't-be-choosers' approach.

Its onset, he declares, was like an ecstatic epiphany. Sylvia is his one-and-only - in that category at any rate. To say that she poses competition would be a contradiction in terms. Perhaps not surprisingly, Stevie (the likeable Kate Fahy) responds by systematically smashing one objet d'art after another in their lovely home.

The cross-species affair in The Goat is less part of a campaign for the relaxation of this particular taboo than a way of illustrating the terrifying irrationality of love in its onset and subsequent uncontrollability. Albee, the clever technician, is also playing artful games with the audience's tolerance.

The snag, though, is that audiences differ quite markedly. I first saw the play on Broadway with the fur-dangling, blue-rinse crowd on a Sunday matinee who had clearly come to be deliciously scandalised and left in audible (and very interesting) confabs about love and legislation. At the Almeida, where the public is achingly liberal, Anthony Page's sleek British premiere is beautifully gauged, but is elegantly hurling itself against a more-or-less open door.

Instead of softening folk up with Noel Coward pastiche and a default mode set at drawing room sitcom, you want the play, in these surroundings to get to the meat of the matter more quickly.

A grizzled, wiry Jonathan Pryce as Martin has brilliant surges of tragic abandonment. On the other hand, you wonder what the wife and Sylvia see in this dried-up, nit-picking verbal pedant. A happier scenario would have the two females cutting out the middle-man in a finessing (farmyard) Sapphic wallow.

Eddie Redmayne as the 17-year-old gay son is the most electrically alive person on stage. Poignantly lanky and dragged into a crisis before enough skins have formed on him, this astonishing young actor shows you a teenager whose needy and pretty sexual desire for Poppa has not been properly worked through before Poppa goes ape with Sylvia - a creature who by the end, I'm afraid, has firmly put the 'goat' back into scapegoat.

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