Sunset at the Villa Thalia is one of those plays that promises more than it delivers. The playwright, Alexi Kaye Campbell, was brought up in Athens, the son of a Greek father and British mother, so has every justification to be concerned about Greece’s economic woes. His new play, however, doesn’t examine this country’s present problems, but is set in 1967, opening on the day the right-wing military junta seized control and closing a couple of years after the transition to democracy.
The Villa of the title is a small white house in Skiathos currently being rented out by a young, rather ineffectual English writer, Theo (Sam Crane) and his self righteous wife Charlotte (Pippa Nixon). They become friendly with an American couple, Harvey (Ben Miles) and June (Elizabeth McGovern) who are visiting the island. It turns out that Harvey is an extremely pushy CIA operative whilst June, a bit of an air head, is not as happy as she appears and is a little too fond of a drink.
The English couple are persuaded by Harvey to purchase Villa Thalia from Stamatis (Christos Callow) and his daughter Maria (Glykeria Dimou). Desperate for cash, the reluctant Maria is persuaded by her father and Harvey that selling the house is the correct decision and the sale goes ahead at way below the market price. This decision is obviously the catalyst for the devastating consequences that the play’s synopsis talks about. But it is devastation for the Greek couple rather than the main characters in the play.
Simon Godwin’s production is beautifully staged and well acted. Ben Miles’s Harvey is suitably obnoxious as one of those cringey Americans who loves the sound of his own voice, whilst Elizabeth McGovern’s role as June is a huge improvement from her turn as Lady Cora. Clad in a distinct blonde wig, she is the epitome of a dumb blonde, turning in a very amusing performance.
What I am unsure about is why Harvey is so desperate for Theo and Charlotte to buy the villa. Is it because he has dastardly plans of which no good will come? Apparently not, for we are persuaded to believe that he has a crush on them both, platonically speaking, of course! Or maybe it is just a plot device to make the American the fall guy for all that’s gone wrong in Greece (and everywhere else come to that)?
Rather than being a politically daring production about how the Greeks have been and are being displaced in their own country, Sunset At The Villa Thalia appears to be more of a contrived morality tale about how the majority of us skew the truth to salve our conscience at the way we’ve managed to achieve what we want.
Thanks to Hildegard Bechtler, Sunset at The Villa Thalia is beautiful and evocative to look at with the smell of pine and taste of ouzo palpable, but this isn’t enough to elevate the play from anything more than lightweight.