The Goat by Edward Albee at London’s Haymarket Theatre

If you have had the experience of being irritated in a theatre when members of the audience laugh inappropriately at serious aspects of a drama – I have had it many times – then I recommend that you go to London’s Haymarket for the current revival of Edward Albee’s play, The Goat. For here the author, I assume quite deliberately, induces this reaction when his main protagonist reveals to friend and family that he has fallen in love with a goat and engaged in bestiality. This extreme form of sexuality might outrage and disgust us; at the very least it causes discomfiture and embarrassment. But it is also comic and we may find it easiest to come to terms with the phenomenon through laughter. So by brilliantly using the audience to explore the ambiguity between comedy and tragedy – and Albee’s play truly has the dimensions of a Greek tragedy – The Goat forces us to examine ourselves and our own set of values, moral and otherwise.

The text, superbly written, is gripping from beginning to end. Ian Rickson’s production is well paced, shifting adroitly between humour, anguish, pathos and aggression. In the role of Martin, the goat-loving husband, Damian Lewis movingly led us to oscillate between sympathy and repulsion but if, at the last resort, he could not quite convince us of the plausibility of his predicament, that was an almost impossible task. In contrast, the reality of his wife Stevie’s reactions was overwhelming in its impact, particularly given Sophie Okonedo’s outstanding, multi-dimensional portrayal. Jason Hughes and Archie Madekwe were both excellent in the supporting roles.