WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 22nd September, 2013
Edward Albee’s masterpiece from 1962 has lost none of its bite and this studio production directed by Colin Judges packs quite a punch. George and Martha (I keep wanting to call her Mildred) are a couple who tear strips off each other in their verbal sparring. It is the way they operate, through vicious snarking and sniping. They are joined for some very late night drinks by a young couple they met at a faculty party hosted by Martha’s father, who runs the university at which George and the younger man, Nick, teach. There are few things more embarrassing than being witness to a marital spat but George and Martha go further than that. So hurtful and hateful is the sparring between them, the couple find themselves not only spectators to a bout of hostilities but also embroiled and implicated in them.
As Martha, Tanya Coleman is loud and brash, with Bette Davis vowels and intonation. She is excellent with her sarcastic commentary on her husband’s shortcomings, often bursting out into loud and violent invective. By contrast, George is quieter and more controlled; Andy Butterworth is perhaps a little too quiet at times, and some of his lines get lost. George needs a little bit more oomph if we are to understand why Martha hasn’t made mincemeat of him long ago.
Jason Rivers’s Nick is a little too distant. I would like to see more discomfort and embarrassment before the drink takes him over. As Nick’s wife Honey, Laura Poyner gives the best performance of the piece, finely detailed and well-observed; she is utterly credible as a young woman quietly becoming inebriated on brandy among the maelstrom of marital strife.
The direction handles the escalation of the many rows very well but there are some losses of momentum, particularly in the scenes between the two men – a pity when other moments are electrifying.
George and Martha’s tragedy is eventually revealed at the play’s climax and is very well handled here. With a little tightening and a little more truth, this could be a blistering piece of theatre.