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Review: The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Bestiality. Yes, read that again.

As soon as you walk in, possibly a couple of minutes late and drenched from the rain, the brightly lit living room of a seemingly average family lulls you into nostalgic comfort.

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Credit: Johannes Hjorth

That comfort is short-lived, and intentionally so, with the uneasy premise of the show becoming clear almost immediately. The Goat or Who is Sylvia? wastes no time in introducing 50 year-old family man Martin who has been suppressing his more than taboo predilection: he is in love with a goat.

Gabriel Wheble is incredibly convincing as Martin who is insistent on defending his horned love and presents the awkward, sexually tortured character almost too well. So much so, that it takes his friend Ross (Charlie Morrell-Brown), wife Stevie (Anna Bullard) and son Billy (Ben Galvin) (and yes, as in billy goat) to remind us how bizarre his love affair is actually is.

As the show progresses, it continues to question the boundaries of sexuality and acceptability in regards to both livestock and people. Though the setting is one of an ordinary living room, it soon becomes a battlefield with smashed paintings and furniture. The silences and sudden brief returns to normalcy are almost more jarring than the fiery arguments and physical aggression that sometimes looked too finely choreographed.

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Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Even during the descent into goat-driven chaos, the actors never lose their sense of comedic timing and the jokes that elicited an amusing range of laughs from the audience are never just throwaway lines. The jokes at the very beginning of the show continue throughout in different forms, serving as a reminder of just how weirdly brilliant and cohesive the whole show is.

Despite there being only four characters (five if we include the lovely goat Sylvia), it feels like significantly more; the actors present such an intricate range of emotions, opinions and perspectives within the same ten minutes that there is never a moment that doesn't command attention. Without giving too much away, Martin's son Billy spends most of the show bewildered and angry at his father's suppressed sexual behaviour only to eventually reveal his own.

From the first minute to the last, the play questions sexual norms in an incisive and wonderfully witty way. If you choose to watch it (and you should), be warned that the funniest moments will induce stomach aches and tears of laughter; it is a triumph.

4.5/5 stars

Header image: Johannes Hjorth