Left - (l-r) Garry McDonald, Alison Bell, Stephen Phillips, Wendy Hughes. Cover (l-r) Wendy Hughes, Stephen Phillips, Garry McDonald, Alison Bell. Photos - Jeff Busby
George and Martha throw an after-party for very select guests, five minutes into which they’ll be charmed, soon after which they’ll be devoured. Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is funny, sad and a little bit sexy. It flatters the voyeur in its audience, allowing them to peer into two marriages, both twisting on the verge of either destruction or redemption.
Director Peter Evans does a tremendous job allowing the text of this fabulous play to come alive without weighing it down in sixties kitsch or over the top histrionics, and as such, it never feels dated. It is a physically static play in that there is only one set; however, this serves to accentuate the quality of the script as it never feels fixed or unchanging. I loved the sense of space he created in such a limited setting, and clearly the performers felt that freedom. It is a comparatively long play but it is certainly entertaining all the way through.
The set, designed by Christina Smith, neatly renders the ambience of a ‘home’ in which the residents either haven’t thoroughly moved in yet, or haven’t thoroughly moved out. It’s uncomfortable and even the chairs seem predatory, wheeling about to catch their quarry. The lighting states though, were at times hard to decipher in their context. Costume design is subtly evocative of the era.
The performances throughout are of a really exciting quality, albeit with some accent stumbles. Nonetheless it was a bit of a ‘ladies night’ with Wendy Hughes (Martha) and Alison Bell (Honey) dominating the production. Hughes rode the chaotic and shambolic Martha from shrill harpy to voluptuous vixen, to disappointed daddy’s girl and around again like rodeo rider. That is, always in control even when it appears she is lurching madly out of control. It is a smoothly confident and vulnerable performance. From her first scene-stealing entrance Alison Bell endows Honey with a beguilingly kooky chuckle, showing superb comic timing and inhabiting this character from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. It is a complicated representation of a character that could easily be misunderstood as simple.
Typically of Albee’s work, the play’s meaning is very subjective, generally splitting audiences from disdain to sympathy. When first produced in 1962 it was considered, by some, as obscene, as was the iconic Burton/Taylor film of the play. I think it is a complex play, in which destructive and self-destructive characters veer both widely and subtly, degrading and flattering their guests and each other.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
By Edward Albee
Venue: the Arts Centre Fairfax Studio
Dates: 22 August - 6 October 2007
Previews: from 17 August 2007
Times: Mon & Tue 6.30pm (20 & 21 Aug 8pm), Wed 1pm & 8pm (no mat 22 Aug), Thu & Fri 8pm, Sat 4pm & 8.30pm (18 Aug 2pm & 8pm)
Tickets: $16 - $72.10
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 136 166 or www.mtc.com.au