The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Theatre, Comedy Haymarket Theatre Royal , Soho Until Saturday June 24 2017
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • 3 out of 5 stars
(20user reviews)
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 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Sophie Okonedo (Stevie), Damian Lewis (Martin)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
Damian Lewis (Martin), Sophie Okonedo (Stevie)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Damian Lewis (Martin), Sophie Okonedo (Stevie)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Damian Lewis (Martin), Sophie Okonedo (Stevie)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Damian Lewis (Martin), Sophie Okonedo (Stevie)

Sophie Okonedo is superb and Damian Lewis entertaining in Edward Albee's unlikely classic

If you know anything about the late American playwright Edward Albee’s last big hit, you’ll know it’s about a man who falls in love with a goat. But having missed its 2004 London production, I didn’t quite realise the extent to which ‘The Goat’ makes hay with its own premise.

A successful architect, Martin (Damian Lewis) is having an affair with Sylvia, who is a goat. His human soulmate and loving wife Stevie (Sophie Okonedo) finds out, and is understandably unhappy. It is tragic, and absurdist, but it also involves people shouting variants of ‘You fucked a goat!’, to much audience laughter.

Ian Rickson is a director usually characterised by glacial restraint, but his revival feels overpowering, milking (oh God, everything feels like a livestock-related innuendo) the play’s humour to the point where its delicacy is lost.

A lot of this can be attributed to Lewis, who was wildly OTT in the last play he did (‘American Buffalo’) and lays it on pretty thick here. It’s not a totally bad thing: Martin is a stylised and eccentric character, a man whose current crisis has done nothing to detract from his donnish wit and hilarious linguistic pedantry. Lewis’s booming, full-bore performance greatly enlivens the first act, which is essentially just one very slow build to a reveal we all know is coming (ie he is shagging a goat). But as the play wears on, the pitch and fussiness of Lewis’s performance increasingly grate. He inhabits each syllable physically, he shouts a lot, but he never tamps it down. The raw, confusing scenes with his sensitive gay son Billy (Archie Madekwe) didn’t really work for me – it’s only in the very last few moments that he shows us Martin’s vulnerability and heartache.

The best thing here, by a country mile, is Okonedo, who tears up the stage as Stevie. In a magnificently committed turn she not only captures the character’s abject devastation at events but also nail’s Albee’s humour. Her Stevie is a clever, funny woman whose intellect demands she comment on the absurdity of the situation even as she tears strips off her husband.

It feels like she’s the only one who nails the play’s duality and innumerous layers, its precarious balancing act between unthinkable tragedy and audience-tickling absurdity. Lewis is funny, and expressive, but he looks a bit too much like an actor having fun.

Next to the West End’s current revival of Albee’s early masterpiece, ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ – just around the corner at the Harold Pinter – it seems a little lightweight. Yes, it’s a dense, symbolic play, but this production feels a bit one-note. Still, what a treat that London is playing host to two of Albee’s great plays at the same time. ‘Woolf’ is the play he’ll be forever known for, but ‘The Goat’ shows what a singular writer he remained, even in his final years.


By: Andrzej Lukowski


Venue name: Haymarket Theatre Royal
Address: 18 Suffolk St
Transport: Piccadilly Circus tube
Price: £15-£65, Premium Seats £95
Event website:
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Average User Rating

3.1 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:4
  • 4 star:6
  • 3 star:2
  • 2 star:3
  • 1 star:5
1 person listening
Elizabeth P
1 of 1 found helpful

Ludicrously wonderful. I had no idea what this play was about at it turned out to be some well needed comedy relief. The acting was superb and made the bonkers storyline seem completely believable. I haven't seen many productions with 'big names' like this as it normally puts me off. But in this instance the casting was perfect and acting skills showed. The set was simple but effective in framing the types of people upon it. There were a few points where the conversation dragged a little for me but it was performed in one act, which I love. Especially because it stops me getting tempted by ice cream. If you're in the Gallery expect to get cosy with your neighbours.

Tiago Almeida
1 of 1 found helpful

Very very dark comedy. 

I can't really say I liked it but it was probably due to not having read about it in advance. I found the story line a bit disturbing.

The positive side is the performances on stages, with Damian Lewis being outstanding as always.

Carrie S
1 of 1 found helpful

Loved it, took my son who really did not want to go but agreed because I wanted to, he loved it too. Very funny and dark but also gave an insight into the dynamics of a marriage. Appreciate not everyone will enjoy this play as it's quirky and off the wall, personally I thought it made a refreshing change.

Lisa C

Absolute rubbish. My sister and I went this week and had an open mind as we knew the somewhat strange concept of the play. No interval and not allowed back in if need to use facilities! After watching part of the show, not at all surprised. There would be a stampede for the exits in the interval and an empty theatre in the second part. My sister reckons herself as a real culture vulture but managed 40 mins, the lady next to me had dozed off. Felt bad disturbing her but escape was necessary. Don't go, we paid £220 for our 2 tickets. Still, had a great day in London and found our Goat experience incredibly amusing. Friends and family have really enjoyed our synopsis of the play, really baaaaaad! Sorry x

ephraim m

Was very disappointed with this show. Money wasted, time wasted. Was toooo painful to watch. The story got stale very quickly.To add to the pain, my girlfriend and I were not allowed to leave until the end. I left feeling like I watched a randomly thrown confetti-like production and people involved are just in it to make a quick buck. At least the smashing of plates and vases puts my money in good use however unnecessary it was. One thing id like to ask is, would Sophie and Daniel sit and watch this show?

Claire B

Not a play for everyone and it looks as though the negative comments here are more to do with the source material than the production, but I thought this was excellent. Damian Lewis steals the show and hopefully he will be up for an Olivier next year. It's a damn difficult part but he handles it superbly. Sophie Okenodo is wondetfful as well. An incredibly accomplished production and unlike other things on the West End at the moment, cough, cough, The Philanthropist and Don Juan in Soho, this deserved to be revived.


seeing this play was the biggest waste of my money.. the play was just weird, there was nothing captivating about it, the "humour" wasn't funny, and it felt like they created random storylines just to be controversial and confusing. They start out with him potentially having dementia.. yet never address that again. The weird situation with the father/son, and the predictable murder at the end was just all too much. Don't waste your money.. I now can't watch Billions without thinking Damian Lewis is a goat f*cker..

Helen Z

Fabulous all around. Okonedo and particularly Lewis were superb.  Going in knowing broadly about the play is important so you can accept the concept. Thought provoking and blackly humourous in turns and ultimately quite poignant. A real gem. Highly recommended. Think both actors will be on Olivier nominations list next year.

Chlo Fo

Weird weird weird! This supposed comedy left me feeling slightly disgusted. While the acting from Lewis and Okonedo is class, the story is just downright bizarre and not in a good way. The debating and arguing between husband and wife goes around in circles to the point of it becoming boring. That is until you get towards the end and it hits the crescendo of oddness. I may be accused of being uncultured and too shallow thinking, with critics such as the Guardian's reviewer touting it as 'thought provoking' about different kinds and ways of loving... call me old fashioned, but I'd rather not adopt beastiality into modern day society. If that wasn't enough to put you off, then there's not even an interval in which you can escape, perhaps that was on purpose? The only redeeming factors for me are the great acting and the brilliant set, hence my second star.

Mercy L

Not for everyone. No interval and it's about bestiality but if you want to see splendid acting from two of our finest actors, then this is the play for you. Just feast on the nuanced performances from the two leads, relax and sure enough you'll be gripped about who comes out best in this bestial menage et toi. Not to be missed.

Margaret M

Highly recommended.If you aren't familiar with the plays of Albee and you want something thought provoking and different,  this is a terrific production. Cast is on tip top form with Damian Lewis again proving he is an incredibly versatile and under rated actor. Absolutely outstanding performance from him.

Peter M

Not such a big fan of this play but thought the production really good. Where it excels is the cast. Sophie Okonedo is wonderful as always but the real star is Damian Lewis. I was a little concerned as I was a little underwhelmed by him in American Buffalo.  He is fantastic in this though wringing every emotional note perfectly. Andrew Scott will have some real competition from him come next year's Oliviers. Archie Madekwe whom I haven't seen before is great as well. So, not Albee's best work, but the acting is as good as you will see anywhere in London and a reasonably short duration, though seats not that comfortable.

Eileen R

Fabulous evening. Hilarious, dark yet poignant. Sophie Okonedo continues to cement her position as a national treasure but (unexpectedly for me at least), Damian Lewis is the star of the show making us feel empathy for the rather bizarre situation in which he has found himself. It's a brilliant performance that hoprfully will land him some awards nomination. Not for everyone but a joy for Albee lovers. Favourite play on London stage so far this year! Ignore the gripe in the Tele, this is *certainly* a five star production and first rate Albee.

Pat J

Fabulous show. Darkly humourous and all three of the main cast were outstanding. I'd suggest anyone thinking of seeing this do a bit of research first. Absurdist humour is not for everyone, but if done well and intelligently as it is here, it makes for a really engaging night out. Hope this gets good reviews as it's refreshing to see something different revived. Great night out and really fun post theatre discussions too!

Richard T

Overpriced tickets and frankly rude attendants. Show was mediocre and a bit weird. Also they won't let you in if you have to go to the loo during the 2 hours- rubbish

Alexandra M

As some of the other reviewers have mentioned, this play really is not one for the casual theatre go-er, but if you're up for a bit of an odd but thought provoking experience i highly recommend it. The cast are fabulous and the plot is a great post-theatre conversation generator!

Helen M

First of three plays booked for London visit. Def a marmite play but thought SO and DL pitched it well. I think this was only third or fourth? preview so impressed that it ran really smoothly. A few walkouts but prob didn't do their research and came for the names. You gotta know your Albee and this ain't Who's Afraid! Love SO in pretty much everything - brill in Crucible last year in NY. Think DL needs a little more time to get all right. Think 3 to 3.5 stars at this stage but can see this growing into 4 to 5 star. Next up Don Juan at Wyndams. Heard only bad things but with cheap tickets prob ditch at interval if it's really that bad, then Twelfth Night at Olivier. That looks to be the best bet. 

Janette M

Not a play for the casual theatre goer but appreciated the quality of the acting. All three leads are already wonderful. It's Albee who is the problem, not this terrific cast of world class actors. Will see this further in the run as there are aspects which definitely need bedding down, but this deserves the benefit of the doubt and think it will garner very strong reviews. A palate cleanser after seeing Don Juan which is also in previews but is irredeemably dreadful.


Terrible performance hinted at a mishandling of most aspects of the play by the director. Overpriced tickets for a completely subpar show. Very disappointing.