Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 16 - 19 March 2016
by Edward Albee
The play might reasonably be subtitled “Who’s Afraid of DIRECTING this play?” To which the answer might be - ALL amateurs. The iconic film from Albee’s play (which preserved almost every line of his sparkling dialogue intact) was a Burton and Taylor classic. Their unforgettable performances easily survive the scrutiny of over half a century of revisits.
Did this dissuade Mike Ward from directing it? Far from it! Did he manage to cast it? Brilliantly! And, incredibly - he gives us more! The play is performed in the round. We share every second of the tortuous relationships of the protagonists from a few feet of separation. The effects are electric. This is a theatrical experience you should try to get if you have the least interest in complex human relationships. Albee shows that what appears to be real might well be our own constructed illusions and what appears to be illusion might be closer to whatever we mean by ‘truth’.
George, an middle-aged academic who hasn’t reached his potential and his wife Martha return from a faculty party. Martha has - without George’s knowledge invited a young couple to join them for drinks. They are both already well fuelled up on alcohol. It is probably no accident that their Christian names are those of the first American president and his wife, because the play takes a microscope to marriage; its ‘ideal type’ and the emotional claustrophobia of the nuclear family. Whilst George and Martha openly insult and degrade each other, the younger Nick and Honey behave with reserved politeness. They are seemingly much better adjusted. As the play progresses the illusions of these formal social veneers dissolve in the alcohol. What lies beneath is a couple bound together by the deepest needs and loathing their mutual dependance.
Jon Crowley as George is volcanic in his eruptions whilst struggling to keep back the surging power of his several frustrations. Lynne Smith as Martha is loathably acidic but had me in tears at her demise. Terry Atkinson as the ambitious Nick - lost in the jungle at the start of the play, develops wonderfully with having to cope with his drunken wife and scheming hosts. Rebecca Peberdy as Honey is gloriously giggly and full of sinister seething. This team of actors are well in control of Albee’s challenging script.
Ward’s decision to present the play in the round raises its game even higher than the film. His technical team is, as always, inch perfect. You won’t notice the lighting changes, the subtlety of the score, the slick properties movements. The drama is totally engrossing.
Gwilym Scourfield - 16/3/2016
There are few more explosively intense and claustrophobic plays than Edward Albee's classic Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It is a drama which places a considerable burden on its four actors, but Abingdon Drama Club bring it to life superbly.
The Unicorn Theatre is an architecturally wonderful, but somewhat inflexible building in which to perform plays. But the decision to extend the stage out into the audience and arrange some seating either side of the narrow stage made a virtue of the spatial difficulties. The audience is forced into close proximity with the action – and what action it turns out to be.
Martha, the embittered wife of university lecturer George, invites a young new lecturer Nick and his dippy wife Honey round for drinks after a university party. The drink continues to flow and so too does the emotional and verbal violence. Lynne Smith is terrific as the aggressive, drunken Martha. Jon Crowley is excellent as her husband, George, apparently put upon but capable of a vicious cunning which outsmarts even Martha. Terry Atkinson is Nick, the new and ambitious young biology lecturer, formerly a quarterback (he has the build!) and like all the others he is not all he seems. The strong quartet is completed by Rebecca Peberdy, the distinctly silly wife whose own secrets are revealed and then ruthlessly exploited.
It is not an uplifting play with a happy ending. It is not always entirely clear what is going on in the complicated games which the four characters play. At one point, Martha says: 'Truth or illusion, George; you don't know the difference.' To which he replies: 'No, but we must carry on as though we did.' The words pretty much summed up my own state of being at that point in proceedings though some things became clearer by the end.
What I do know is that Albee's play is a terrific piece of drama and the Abingdon Drama Club's production is really worth making an effort to get to.
Peter Tickler - Daily Info - 16/3/2016
Wow! Is the only coherent (and printable) exclamation I can find for the spell binding performances from this talented quartet drawn from the membership of ADC, a company which appears to go from strength to strength if the plays I have reviewed over the past couple of years are anything to go by.
This is my third visit to review a show from ADC and I must say on each occasion the bar has been raised and a new level of brilliance has been achieved. This was a truly memorable performance in every sense of the word from the opening lines to the bitter and tragic final line when Martha is taunted about who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf by her husband and she replies, ‘’I am George, I am.’’
The play, by Edward Albee, and hailed as a modern day classic does not make for easy viewing. It deals with the darker side of human relationships and hidden secrets and the drink fuelled dialogue is soon in full swing and, make no mistake, very few (if any) punches are pulled!
The set and moody lighting design was impressive to say the least. Played in the round on a specially extended stage all added to the intimacy and immediacy of the piece. One felt that one was actually in George and Martha’s living room experiencing the whole ghastly business first hand.
The original music used to punctuate the scenes and denote the passage of time was very evocative. I was particularly impressed by the almost (at first) imperceptible low droning rumbling sound which preceded each dramatic climax. This was a superb way of building tension and spine-tingling stuff.
The four actors all gave outstanding performances. Jon Crowley as George and Lynne Smith as Martha his wife, the middle aged couple at war and harbouring a dark secret, both gave incredibly powerful performances. They sparked and fizzled like a high voltage electricity cable suddenly severed in two. The delivery of their dialogue was spell-binding and their on-stage chemistry was extremely well captured.
Terry Atkinson as Nick and Rebecca Peberdy as Honey the young couple innocently drawn into the older couple’s ‘war’ were excellent. They played the roles very convincingly and their own tragic ‘secret’ was cleverly revealed. These were truly riveting performances.
A gentleman by the name of Michael Ward appears in the programme quite a few times and clearly in this production he has been a very busy man. Not only did he design the previously mentioned set, lighting and sound plus the publicity poster but also composed the original music and directed this amazing piece of theatre. He was certainly rewarded for all his hard work by teasing out some remarkable performances from his talented cast!
This was Abingdon Drama Club at its very best and doing what – in my experience – it always does, producing fine, polished thought-provoking theatre.
Many congratulations to all involved with this excellent production and may I wish you all every success with future ventures.
Rob Bertwistle - 17/3/2016