“Who?s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” by Edward Albee
Malvern Theatres, July 8
Adrian Noble?s revival of Albee?s 1962 American classic features strong performances and design, but fails to shed light on any contemporary parallels. The play is famously brutal and long. It’s three and a half hour running time is a test of endurance for an audience, not because of the length, but because of the unremitting cruelty and assault of the second and third acts.
The characters take turns to mercilessly dissect each other’s insecurities, twisting the knife of maliciousness further each time the audience thinks it?s gone far enough. The men have their masculinity probed and belittled, the women have their fertility and faithfulness drawn painfully into question.
It?s a long night at George and Martha?s. Regrettably, it feels like a long night at Malvern Theatres too.
This touring production has a strong, experienced cast who bring truth and guile to the arduous roles, but their work is not enough to save the play from spending too long as a one-note argument. There are interesting, if dated, themes raised in the first act – reality/illusion, science/history, past/future, but they are left undeveloped as the realism takes over.
The audience are abandoned with little to think about as George and Martha get deep into their feud – we simply feel for long stretches of the play like voyeurs at an excruciating anatomy of a broken marriage. The relentless fighting isn?t enough to sustain this reviewer?s interest. I found it hard to empathise with any of the four characters and I learned nothing new about either modern society or 60s America.
A terrific naturalistic set design by Mike Britton absorbs the audience into the claustrophobic New England home and the two leading actors, Tim Pigott-Smith and Clare Higgins, are on top form – bringing delusion, paranoia, weariness and a little love to George and Martha.
This is an old-fashioned, naturalistic, three-act construction which attempts to use human drama as a metaphor for society, but its over-reliance on meandering, verbose arguments make it a real test of stamina for its intellectually neglected audience.
Reviewed by Lee Farley.