WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
Director: James MacDonald
Writer: Edward Albee
Runtime: 180 mins. (including interval)
Australian release date: 19 August 2017
Previewed at: Dendy Cinemas, Newtown, Sydney. on 8 August 2017.
James MacDonald’s critically acclaimed production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? is the latest offering in the U.K.’s National Theatre Live series. Upholding the tradition established by the blazing performances of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton that blasted from the screen in Mike Nichols’s 1966 film of the play, this production with Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill is just as torrid and is a must-see. It was recorded earlier this year in London’s Harold Pinter Theatre.
Set on an American college campus in the fictional town of New Carthage, Albee’s play deals with the frustrations and disappointments in the lives of a long-married, particularly toxic couple. George (Conleth Hill), a professor in the school’s History faculty, and Martha (Imelda Staunton), the daughter of the college’s Dean, have just arrived home from a drinks party when, much to his dismay, George learns that Martha has invited the young, new professor, Nick (Luke Treadaway) and his wife Honey (Imogen Poots), back for a night-cap. As the alcohol flows, bitter truths emerge and a flood of vitriol sweeps away everything in its path until one final, soul-destroying secret is revealed.
Edward Albee once said, “if you have no wounds, how do you know if you’re still alive?’ and his play is an accurate depiction of this quote. You can almost see the blood dripping off the walls as the actors open themselves to the deep levels of vulnerability that Albee’s searing words expose. Line after line explodes from the stage and you become totally trapped in George and Martha’s awful world. Staunton and Hill are positively lethal as they play their wicked games, utterly convincing in their roles. It’s hard to imagine how they found the strength to perform them night after night. As an audience member you feel exhausted at the play’s finale; how must they feel? They’re ably supported by Treadaway and Poots, who are on a par with the two leads, albeit in lesser parts.
The set is designed in such a way that there are ‘safe’ spots where the protagonists can momentarily escape from the tension centre stage but these moments are only fleeting - and unattainable for the viewer. It’s like you are a voyeur peeking from the wings as you spy on these two couples airing their differences without the slightest modicum of dignity and there’s a sense of relief for all when dawn finally breaks. Albee was coy about the motivation for his play but with clues like "New Carthage," "George" and "Martha," it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that the work is a critical examination of the rules and regulations governing American society; and it’s as relevant today as it was in 1962. This production of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? is theatre at its very best - you’ll want to head for the nearest bar when it reaches its terrible conclusion.