Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? questions the wisdom of expecting a happy marriage or success. In this play any façade of a happy marriage between George and Martha is immediately dispelled and the mutual antagonisms that are usually kept private are unselfconsciously paraded publicly.
Director Benedict Andrews’ production is breathtaking. His inventive, sinuous and physical staging matches the vigour of Albee’s characters and the wit of the language. For such an iconically American work, Andrews’ style – mixing ritual and expressionism with naturalism – makes it very modern and creates a slightly European tone.
George and Martha are played ferociously well by Marton Csokas and Catherine McClements. George is a middle aged history professor and his wife Martha is the daughter of the university’s president. She is deeply resentful about her husband’s failure to climb the academic ladder.
They invite a young couple home for a drink after a party and immediately proceed to savagely attack each other – acerbic barbs fly right and left. The dialogue is outrageously witty and very, very nasty. Martha holds the upper hand in the first act, but is later matched by George in their lacerating routine. George and Martha’s love/hate relationship has become a sport they like to play out in front of guests. Their loathing has become a hideous parlour game. “Get the guest” is a family favourite.
McClements has brilliantly captured the full dimension of Martha – domineering, loud and vicious, giving way to vulnerable despair.
Csokas is outstanding as the emasculated, self denigrating George. His George is eloquent and subversive. As the drama intensifies, Csokas poignantly wavers between breaking point and exacting revenge.
The young biology tutor, Nick (Simon Stone) and his homey wife Honey, impressively played by Robin McLeavy, mirror George and Martha: Nick is cynical and ambitious and Honey maintains secrets of her own. The strength with which McLeavy responds to the action, in many ways, drives the production. McLeavy has created a pivotal role for Honey. This is certainly no 1960s passive housewife interpretation of the role.
Robert Cousins’ sleek, glass, modernist set is beautiful and establishes the tone for the production. In the last act it revolves, forcing the audience to watch the action through the glass. This formal erection of a fourth wall heightens the production stylistically. The characters are forced to amplify their actions and voices to overcome the barrier. It serves as an alienation technique. The audience are now voyeurs looking in, distanced from the action and made to think about the implications of what they are seeing.
Albee’s play looks inside a marriage and exposes the debilitating, unresolved loathing that serves, in this case, to mask genuine pain. Written as a metaphor for American society, the concerns of thwarted dreams, toxic relationships, a lack of mutual compassion and the fragility of civilization equally resonate at a personal and political level today.
Company B presents
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
by Edward Albee
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre, 25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills
Dates: 9 August – 16 September 2007
Times: Tuesday 6.30pm, Wednesday to Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 5pm.
Tickets: Full $52. Seniors (excluding Fri/Sat evenings) & Groups 10+ $44. Concession $32.
Under 27: $32 tickets for Tuesday 6.30pm available from 10am on the day (subject to availability).
Bookings: (02) 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au