In salute to the 50th anniversary of a classic American play, Rapture Theatre are touring the country and brought their fantastic adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, to Stirling’s Macrobert Arts Centre.
The play, which was written by Edward Albee and was first performed in 1962, observes the violent turbulence of a marriage between a middle-aged couple within a dramatically climatic three act structure. Martha (Sara Stewart) is a loud and somewhat vulgar woman, who flirts with impropriety, to deal with her oppressive boredom and disappointment in her long-term husband, George. George (Robin Kingsland) is a mediocre member of the history department at a university run by his wife’s disapproving father. Frustrated by his small world and lack of success, recognition and even love, George has become wildly sarcastic, overly impassioned and goads or challenges those around him, in order to gain a feeling of self-importance and superiority.
After a party to welcome new members of the faculty to the university, Martha invites fresh faced lecturer, Nick, (Paul Albertson), and his wife, Honey, (Rose Reynolds), for some late-night drinks. And it isn’t long before the unsuspecting visitors knock on the door, and are welcomed into a den of drink and dishonesty. The private shindig starts off tamely enough, as the two couples size each other up and play nice. Nick is a young, attractive and self-confident biologist, who gives off an air of masculine and intellectual assurance. His wife, Honey, is a rather quiet, conservative and mouse like character, whose name is a constant internal joke. But as the drinks pour on and the glasses swiftly empty, malicious wit and sickly sparing turn everything sour. It isn’t long before the civil rules of host and guest are tossed aside and the four drunk characters begin to openly harass and ridicule each other, as foul secrets and forbidden lusts spill out, threatening to turn them all mad. As the hours roll on, we all wonder, when will this party end, and who has the biggest skeletons and longings to hide?
The play, that is a heated mess of societal critique, is a terrific piece of writing on every level. It is almost as if we ourselves have been invited to a party and get to watch-up-close and personal-as things go from awkward to anarchy. This natural presence the script gives off, not only makes everything more exciting, but adds a greater depth of shock and awe. And with the play being equally hilarious as it is dark, you are being offered an equal measure of a comedy and a tragedy. But what is perhaps the most genius achievement of this play, is that anyone watching it can relate to its message. Because of the four conflicting characters, who each bring their own prickly personalities and hidden fears or hopes into the story, then we can all empathise or connect to one or all of them. In terms of themes, we can each understand the concepts of regret, dissatisfaction, ambition, feeling like we’ve settled, the need to be loved and appreciated and the duty to stifle our natural harmful urges. Being from the early 60s, the play considers the idea of what a perfect and even acceptable marriage and family should look like from the outside and what it should consist of on the inside. From everything to gender roles and responsibilities in the home and at work, to what our life should mean and show in every chapter, we are soon facing a review and personal reflection on how similar social expectations have barely changed or liberated us in the past fifty years.
The cast were remarkable, with each of them owning their characters through commitment to their personal symbolism, constant energy, perfect timing and the raw and rounded way in which they delivered their lines. Their chemistry with each other was also magnetic and allowed the eloquent dialogue and painful emotions to gain precedence.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is an iconic piece of literature and the way it snakes between both delicacy and veracity speaks volumes to audiences today. It reminds us of how easily we can disappoint and limit ourselves, and how some scars never heal. And with it being so tempting to blur the line between truth and illusion, who knows what sort of world we can fabricate for ourselves to get away from the big bad wolf in our lives?
Video courtesy of: UNSCENE production company
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