WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
by Edward Albee.
Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET To 5 July 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 3 July.
Runs 3hr 10min Two intervals.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 June.
Energy and vituperation are central to this Bath revival.
This 1962 play is a modern classic, which means not just that it gets revived (that happens with period pieces too). A classic represents its period but stretches beyond it too. And Virginia Woolf? remains vital, though some aspects are less contemporary now.
There isn’t the same urgency to the arts versus science debate, nor the newborn fear of science ‘perfecting’ the humanity out of humans. That aspect, fuelling American academic George, bound-down in the alcoholic routine of his failed university career, in his attack on hopeful young professor Nick, has little space.
But the stalemate in George and Martha’s marriage as they entertain Nick and his wife Honey late-night after a reception by Martha’s father, the university boss, is deadly as ever, George’s sarcasm as virulent as Martha’s more upfront attack, an aspect of the play increasingly apparent over the years.
Adrian Noble’s revival lets Tim Pigott-Smith and Clare Higgins loose on each other’s characters. Energy and depths of scorn lie between this George and Martha, the few moments of shared laughter like the break between rounds in a boxing-match. Higgins in particular is magnificent, her seduction of young Nick as much a familiar George-getting strategy as the psychological power-games that underlie the structure.
Accused of braying, Higgins’ Martha, like all others’, brays out “I don’t bray”; then, more subtly, repeats the phrase softly, as if re-assuring herself. And Iris Roberts gives Honey a modern self-reliance that strengthens the play for the modern age without distorting the character. It matches Nathan Wiley’s Nick, controlling himself with confidence under George’s provocation.
America itself has come into new focus since Albee adopted its first First Couple’s names for his characters, and the play as a picture of society isn’t emphasised. Rather, as daylight dawns, bringing birdsong, it’s the slug-out of another day surviving the marital mill which beckons.
Only the acknowledgment about their child, reached at the climax, might change things. Albee had essayed similar ground the previous year in a one-act play The American Dream, and the baby theme would recur in his plays. But this remains its classic expression.
George: Tim Pigott-Smith.
Martha: Clare Higgins.
Nick: Nathan Wiley.
Honey: Iris Roberts.
Director: Adrian Noble.
Designer: Mike Britton.
Lighting: Paul Pyant.
Sound: John Leonard.
Assistant director: Oscar Toeman.