About Time You Saw: Who’s Afraid of Virginia WoolfBy Gilly Hopper
Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a disconcerting dissection of domesticity.
A play driven by fear and ferocity, director James Macdonald presents a work that is raw, human and truthful, bestial and brutal. Directing the first production of Albee’s landmark play since his death last September, Macdonald’s paced presentation feels like a slow and seducing exorcism. Evil is laid bare on stage.
Written in 1962, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was denied the Pulitzer prize that year on the grounds that it was a “filthy play.” Albee’s play seeps beneath the phoney exterior of the 1950s American family exposing the ‘filthy truths’ of how people exist in society and how they cheat themselves.
On the campus of an American college in New England, Martha (Imelda Staunton), much to her husband George’s (Conleth Hill) displeasure, has invited the new professor Nick (Luke Treadaway) and his wife Honey (Imogen Poots) to their home for some after-party drinks. As the alcohol flows and dawn approaches, the young couple are drawn into George and Martha’s toxic games until the evening reaches its climax in a moment of devastating truth-telling.
‘Subtle and intelligent people play subtle and intelligent games. They play games with reality, illusion.’ Albee’s text is a charged launching pad of insults, witticisms and pseudo intellect. Marta (Staunton) and George (Hill) involve in child’s play that escalates to vindictiveness in an inhalation. The interchange and energy between Hill and Staunton is astounding. These are beasts wandering the stage at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
In an attack on the unconscious, the seemingly innocent discretions of houseguests Nick and Honey are quickly turned against them. Albee’s characters are human – they are childish, self-praising and animalistic. As Marta, Staunton consistently cheats your expectations; her choices as an actor are more inverted than anticipated. A porous character, Marta sucks energy from George but is saturated in her own rage below the surface. Staunton’s use of silence and evasion of dramatic moments is a stellar lesson in acting. In contrast, George (Hill) is artful in his victimization. As his character develops our perception of the people presented on stage change. Nick and Honey’s interjections provide some great comedic moments, displacing the firing squad in the front room momentarily.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will unsettle you as it mauls away at the concept of a nuclear family and societies shiny veneer.
At the Harold Pinter Theatre until 27 May 2017.