Sunset at the Villa Thalia tackles 1960s Greek politics from a deckchair

 
Dougie Gerrard
Elizabeth McGovern and Ben Miles in Sunset at the Villa Thalia

Dorfman Theatre | ★★★★☆

Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play is a deeply personal effort. Born and raised in Greece, he was a baby at the time of the 1967 military coup, which is his play’s organising event; the two acts are set during its occurrence and aftermath, formulated around two holidays at the eponymous villa. Theo and Charlotte (Sam Crane, Pippa Nixon), arty English types, are joined after a chance meeting by Harvey (Ben Miles), a CIA agent sent to ease Greece’s transition to military dictatorship, and June (Elizabeth McGovern), his ditzy wife.

You’d think Campbell’s biography would give the play an intimate feeling, so it’s curious to see how he evokes his native land. Greece is present – in frequent eulogies to its democracy and theatre, and in Hildegard Bechtler’s enticing, sun-soaked set – but it isn’t really necessary, and the action might’ve been relocated to one of Harvey’s other mentioned deployments, in Zaire or Chile, without a change of message. The real subject is American imperialism, that constant of the late 20th-century. As such, the main players are Britain and America, represented by the holidaying couples, while the only Greek characters are virtual walk-ons.

The earnestness of the play’s politics could’ve been cloying, but Campbell’s writing is impressively nimble, offsetting moral seriousness with moments of real comedy. His actors benefit from this proficiency, all giving effective, enthusiastic performances, with McGovern particularly excelling in a role that would’ve seemed stale in less capable hands. There are problems: the pacing is erratic, with drama sometimes too slow to arrive. Campbell also has a tendency to write in national terms, which can reduce his characters to stereotypes – the worthy Brits, the fast-talking Americans oozing sleazy charm, the provincial, conservative Greeks.

But these are quibbles, and they don’t detract from the lasting effect. ‘Sunset…’ is a fine play: effective as metaphor and enjoyable as drama.

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