There's a lot of shouting, there's a lot of baiting and insulting, there's a lot of teasing, provocation and vitriol, and a good measure of humour. Albee's iconic masterpiece from the sixties is well endowed with all of these, and is so well known to theatre lovers that no analysis of the play itself is needed here.

But in this particular production, there's also a big lot of superb acting, enlightened casting, and challenging nuance, illuminating afresh this remarkable script.

Equal credit must go to the Director, Margaret Harvey, Designer Ailsa Paterson, and each of the four brilliant actors, ably supported with a great sound design by Andrew Howard, subtly underlying and emphasising the rise and fall of the emotional levels, and apposite lighting by Nigel Levings.

Jimi Bani wears – and fits – the role of George like a steel and velvet glove – sometimes affable, sometimes vicious; now peacemaking and steady, now taunting and emotionally violent, yet likeably laced with humour, as he describes himself as having a “quiet, noisy, relaxed intensity”. Bani wears all of these with impressive aplomb and credibility.

Susan Prior as Martha is equally impressive: every bit as adept at taunting, demanding, prodding and provoking as her husband, while working to cover up a tender damaged childhood of rejection and expectation. Prior is particularly impressive in the demanding and long soliloquy at the beginning of Act 3, in which her character reveals her self-loathing, and tryst with craziness as a refuge from the weight of the world, leading to her determination to punish her husband for loving her. Then she bounces back into the fray of attacking and defending, taunts and threats and the emotional strip-jack-naked continues into the final scene.

This couple shows how they have made getting at each other an art form, hell-bent on mutual demolition.

Meanwhile, their guests, the younger Nick: Rashidi Edward, and Honey: Juanita Navas-Nguyen look on and learn, gradually getting caught up in the alcohol-assisted melee. Both show delightful initial naivete, and gradual and dramatic involvement with considerable skill.

This troupe is a world class example of acting, enhanced by the inspired decision of Director Margaret Harvey to cast four actors of different racial backgrounds in these challenging roles, which has given the 60 year old play a vital new life and pertinence to today, and highlighted some of the continuing political issues we still face. Especially poignant was the “houseboy” scene, as white woman shouts at and challenges the black man in an entirely different context.

Equally poignant was the disappearing see-though perspex set, as the walls of the glass house (in which things happen and change with such intensity) are systematically removed. So the shallowness of relationships and the depths of human life are revealed with less and less “protection”, as the games are played, and there is less room to hide, right up to the final scene, as George contemplates how everything will be better.

Maybe. Yes. No.

Wherever the world may be going, this production is indeed a tour de force. All involved deserve plaudits.

Event details

State Theatre Company of South Australia presents
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
by Edward Albee

Director Margaret Harvey

Venue: Dunstan Theatre | Adelaide Festival Centre SA
Dates: 27/01/2022 – 06/02/2022
Bookings: premier.ticketek.com.au

 

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