REVIEW: Probably the most controversial play you will see in York this year…

Awkward moment for Martin (Bryan Bounds) and son Billy (Will Fealy) in The Goat. Pictures: Matthew Kitchen

REVIEW: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, Pick Me Up Theatre, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, dropping jaws until Saturday, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

WELL, you won’t see a play like this every day, but I dare you still to see it in Pick Me Up Theatre’s northern UK premiere.

Playwright Edward Albee, born in Virginia, but long associated with New York after moving to Greenwich Village at 18, is best known for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?. The 1962 one, turned into a 1966 Mike Nichols film with the almighty verbal scrap between Elizabeth Taylor’s Martha and Richard Burton’s George.

Susannah Baines’s Stevie wonders what’s going on in The Goat

Albee wrote another play with a question mark in its title in 2002: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? The American agent provocateur of theatre of the absurd could pour 50 years of the even more absurd into it, but essentially it is a further study of the marital complexities of a middle-aged couple, in this case Martin and Stevie Gray.

Except that Albee’s Broadway premiere came with a plea from the writer: “Imagine what you can’t imagine… imagine being in love with something you can’t conceive of. The play is about love, loss, the limits of our tolerance and who, indeed, we really are.”

And there was more: “All I ask of an audience is that they leave their prejudices in the cloakroom and view the play objectively and later – at home – imagine themselves as being in the predicament the play examines and coming up with useful, if not necessarily comfortable, responses.”

Will Fealy as Billy: announcing a talent to watch as drama school beckons

Who could sense at the start what lies in store, how famous New York architect Martin Gray’s world would soon turn to rubble as the American Dream crumbles? Played by suave American actor Bryan Bounds, who recommended the play to director Mark Hird, Gray has just turned 50, won his latest prize and been given the ultimate commission to design the World City on Kansas’s wheat fields.

Hair immaculate, life immaculate, house immaculate in its monochrome trendiness (in Robert Readman’s design), he says he could not be more happily in love with wife Stevie (Susannah Baines). Son Billy (Will Fealy) is blossoming at 17, brightly questing and gay (like Albee, who knew it at 12 and a half).

Yet Martin seems distracted, playing at forgetfulness in banter with Stevie, and what’s that smell, she asks. When he is even more distracted while talking with best friend Ross (Mick Liversidge), fouling up a TV interview recording, the truth will out. Martin has fallen in love with Sylvia, a goat (hence the smell), and the feeling is mutual, and yes, without being graphic, the relationship is full on.

MIck Liversidge’s Ross: asking the searching questions in The Goat

Greek tragedies dive deep into the extremes of the human condition, as do plenty of Shakespeare’s plays, and, especially, Jacobean tragedies. The Goat puts the ‘eek’ into a modern Greek tragedy, although it is more of a tragicomedy. Yes, you read that right. There is a liquorice-dark humour to Albee’s brilliantly written confessions and confrontations, as well as moments that are excruciatingly uncomfortable, as The Goat turns from domestic situation comedy to Domestos-powerful situation tragedy.

What’s more, Hird’s thrust-stage setting, with the audience so close up on three sides, adds to that discomfort, and not because Baines’s Stevie starts smashing all the living-room pottery (courtesy of Fangfoss Pottery’s Gerry Grant). No, it is the fierce heat, the candour, of what is being said. Hird’s cast avoids histrionics; instead the rise and fall and rise again of anger, hurt, confusion, love, is far more skilfully played by one and all, pulling the audience this way and that.

Bounds urged Hird to cast Baines, and he was spot-on: his Martin is infuriatingly phlegmatic, unflustered; her Stevie is an ever-tightening coil in response, whose actions will speak louder than his words.

The Gray family: all smiles before the Sylvia storm

Son Billy is caught in the middle, and Will Fealy, such a burgeoning talent that he has just been offered an unconditional place at Arts.Ed in London, conveys all the confusions of illusions being shattered, certainties derailed, while dealing with his own sexual awakening.

Mick Liversidge’s bewildered, shocked Ross sort of represents the audience in his reactions, or does he, because the moral ambiguities are complex, and as Albee once said, “if you think this play is about bestiality, you’re either an idiot or a Republican”. Trump that!

Albee also said: “Never leave the audience the same way you found them”, and 90 unbroken minutes of The Goat – apart from the smashed bowls and vases – will leave you pondering relationships, family, love. As for goats, I’ll stick to loving goats’ cheese.

Please note: this play contains adult themes and strong language; suggested minimum age of 15.

How Albee’s entertaining, disturbing, modern Greek tragedy The Goat could divide families

Family portrait: Bryan Bounds as Martin Gray, Will Fealy as his son Billy and Susannah Baines as his wife Stevie in Pick Me Up Theatre’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre are staging next week’s northern UK premiere of Edward Albee’s emotional, if controversial, rollercoaster of an American play, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?.

New York architect Martin Gray has it all as he turns 50: fame, fortune, a happy marriage to Stevie, and a wonderful, gay teenage son, Billy, but he is hiding a BIG secret. Everything changes when he admits to his best friend, Ross, that he is having an affair with…a goat.

The Goat caused a stir but nevertheless was a hit with audiences when it opened on Broadway in 2002, winning the Tony Award for Best Play 40 years after Albee took home the same prize for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? 

Playing at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41Monkgate, York, from February 25 to 29, The Goat switches between comedy and full-blown tragedy as Stevie, Billy and Ross struggle to deal with Martin’s revelation.

“The play is about love and loss, the limits of our tolerance and who, indeed, we really are,” explained Virginia-born playwright Albee, who died in September 2016. “All I ask of an audience is that they leave their prejudices in the cloakroom … and later — at home — imagine themselves as being in the predicament the play examines and coming up with useful, if not necessarily comfortable, responses.”

Bryan Bounds, left, Mick Liversidge and Will Fealy in rehearsal for The Goat

Directed by Mark Hird and produced and designed by Robert Readman, Pick Me Up’s production casts American actor and tutor Bryan Bounds as Martin; Susannah Baines as Stevie; Mick Liversidge as Ross and Will Fealy, a student at CAPA College, the creative and performing arts college in Wakefield, as Billy.

Bryan Bounds, who runs the American School of Acting at Westcliffe Hall, off Cold Bath Road, in Harrogate, suggested The Goat to Mark, having first met him when his son Frankie played Pugsley in Pick Me Up’s production of The Addams Family at the Grand Opera House, York, in October 2015.

“I saw the original Broadway production in 2003 at The Booth Theatre with Sally Field and Bill Irwin leading the cast,” he recalls. “Like a lot of people, I was stunned, and afterwards I sat cogitating with an old chap, and we both said, ‘yes, it’s entirely possible that you could fall in love with goats’, but actually this play is nothing to do with goats.

“Albee’s work is all about using theatre to elevate the consciousness of the audience. He says, ‘never leave the audience the same way you found them’. This play really stays with you and you start to think more about intolerance. But the less the audience know before going, the better for having an impact on them.”

Bryan had been sitting on suggesting The Goat to Pick Me Up, “but then I saw Susannah [Baines] in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies and thought she’d be perfect for Stevie because you need a very strong actor for that role,” he says.

“It will make you change how you think about everything, all in 90 minutes,” says Bryan Bounds, left, of Edward Albee’s play

“I asked Mark if he would like to direct it, and once he said ‘yes’, he suggested Mick Liversidge to play Ross, and I suggested Will Fealy for Billy. Will lives in Ossett and has been one of my students; he’s very talented and he’s just been offered an unconditional place at ArtsEd in London after he finishes at CAPA College.”

It was not a straightforward decision that Mark would direct The Goat. “When Bryan asked me, initially I sent a holding message saying I’d just agreed to direct Monster Makers, though I’m a reluctant director as acting is my passion,” he recalls.

“But then I read Albee’s play and thought, ‘oh my god, I have to do this’. I could see what Bryan could see in it.”

Playing Martin’s wife Stevie will be a “totally different direction” for Susannah. “I’m usually a bit more jazz hands; I rarely do straight plays; The Pitmen Painters in 2015 was the last one,” she says.

“Then I read the play without reading anything about it, and the impact of its fallout is quite extraordinary and scary for all four of them. You start with this happy, rich successful family who seem to have it all, but one bombshell changes it all.”

Mick Liversidge, back left, Bryan Bounds, Susannah Baines and Will Fealy: Mark Hird’s cast for The Goat

Susannah adds: “I wouldn’t have done this play if Mark wasn’t directing it, because he does everything with such care, such detailed research, and then works so collaboratively in the rehearsal room.”

Bryan has enjoyed the rehearsal process with Mark. “The first time we met up, he sat us down and we spent an hour just talking about the characters; who they are; what do they each want? That’s the luxury of how he works. Detail,” he says.

“I just believe we’re there to tell Albee’s story, and with Mark’s huge amount of research, we will tell this huge emotive story, not just do a play. I love the idea that it’s not all set in stone, so it will be different every night because the audience’s responses will change every night.”

Mark says: “The audience don’t need to see the research. It’s the result that counts. At first, audiences would swear they’re watching a situation comedy that’s very funny, but as the play goes on, what they’re watching is a situation tragedy.

“Albee gave the printed edition of the play a subtitle: Notes Towards A Definition Of Tragedy, but there’s not just a flow from comedy to tragedy with the consequences of a tragic flaw leading to a fall from a great height.

“Instead, there’ll be one line that has you in fits of laughter and then suddenly you choke on that laugh because of the line that comes next. It’s so well constructed and that’s what Albee is so good at.”

Mick Liversidge’s Ross confronts Bryan Bounds’ Martin in rehearsal for The Goat

Mark adds: “When you’re faced with moral ambiguities in a play, as with Greek tragedies, it makes you think about yourself and about society around you, and that’s what makes Albee’s play a modern version of a Greek tragedy.”

Bryan rejoins: “Albee wrote the play because he wanted audiences to conceive the inconceivable. Originally it was going to be about a man falling in love with another man, but then he thought, ‘No, I need to polarise people’s response to it’.

“I have the feeling it will be the most disturbing play people will ever have seen at 41 Monkgate.”

Albee once said, “if you think this play is about bestiality, you’re either an idiot or a Republican”. Mark says: “He also said, it’s no more about bestiality than it’s about flower arranging’ and both are in the play!”

Why should you see The Goat? “It’s a play that will make you laugh, shock you, and maybe even make you cry,” says Susannah. “It’s the most outrageously funny tragedy you could ever see, and above all it will make you think.”

Bryan concludes: “It will make you change how you think about everything, all in 90 minutes.”

Mark has the last word. “It will make you think about your relationships; how you treat your family, as Albee portrays relationships in a way that has a real impact on audiences.

“If you like theatre that’s entertaining and sends you home changed and thinking about some big themes, this is one of those nights for you.”   

The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, runs at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41Monkgate, York, from February 25 to 29, 7.30pm nightly. Box office: 01904 623568 or at Please note: this play contains adult themes and strong language; suggested minimum age of 15.

Potter Gerry Grant has just taken his most bizarre commission…and it’s a smash hit

Gerry Grant making one of the pots for smashing at Fangfoss Pottery

IT sounds potty, but Fangfoss potter Gerry Grant is making pots expressly to be broken.

“I’ve just landed my most unusual job yet,” he says. “I’ve been commissioned by York company Pick Me Up Theatre to make some props for next week’s production of The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?.

“What’s so unusual about this request is that they’ve asked me to make a selection of very large pots that will be smashed to pieces on the stage.”

These pots are made for breaking: Gerry Grant with the pottery that Pick Me Up Theatre’s cast will pick up to smash at next week’s performances

Presented by Pick Me Up at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, from February 25 to 29, Edward Albee’s American play centres around Martin Gray, a successful, middle-aged architect who has just turned 50 and leads an ostensibly ideal life with his loving wife, Stevie, and gay teenage son, Billy.

However, when he confides to his best friend that he also is in love with a goat named Sylvia, he sets in motion events that will destroy his family and leave his life in tatters.

Albee’s domestic drama ponders the limits of an ostensibly liberal society, showing a family in crisis to challenge audience members to question their own moral judgment of social taboos.

The Goat cast members Bryan Bounds, Will Fealy and Susannah Baines

Director Mark Hird says: “The pottery plates, vases and bowls are an integral part of the show. They represent wealth, prosperity and order in a seemingly perfect household.

“They are expensive works of art collected by world-famous architect Martin Gray to furnish the living room of the family’s New York home – and they’re smashed when Stevie confronts Martin after discovering his affair with Sylvia, the goat.”

Gerry has run Fangfoss Pottery for 43 years with wife Lyn Grant at The Old School, Fangfoss, near York, and never before has he received such a destructive commission.

“The pots have been specially made and fired to break easily,” says potter Gerry Grant. “I do hope they perform the task well”

“I’ve tried for more than 40 years to produce pots that are sturdy and not easily broken. Now I’ve been asked to do the opposite! The pots have been specially made and fired to break easily. I do hope they perform the task well.”

The Goat caused controversy but was a big hit – much like the pottery breaking – with Broadway audiences when it opened in 2002. So much so, it won the Tony Award for best play, 40 years after writer Albee won the same prize for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.

Next week marks its York premiere, when Gerry will witness his pots being broken on the 41 Monkgate stage. “I’m looking forward to seeing the play,” he says. “I’m sure it will be a smashing production”.

Tickets for the 7.30pm performances are on sale at and on 01904 623568.