Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Mention Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and most people will recall the 1966 film adaptation starring Taylor and Burton at the peak of their own convoluted marital soap opera. While the movie has achieved iconic status in its own right, Edward Albee’s unflinching portrayal of white, middle class marriage as fight to the death, at a transitional point in American history, packs a much more powerful punch in the intimacy of the theatre.
Where Mike Nichols’ film had the grainy look of a documentary James Brining’s production for Dundee Rep wisely stresses the theatricality of the piece. The mix of verbal and physical cruelty and fantasy role-play in George and Martha’s marriage, and the blend of realism and fantasy in the play, is echoed in Philip Whitcomb’s striking set – a naturalistic living-room crash-landed in the middle of a barren, post-nuclear rubble littered with empty bottles. The placing of a full-sized mirror above the set recalls the bedroom ceiling mirrors beloved of exhibitionists, but is perhaps rather heavy symbolism for the parallels between the older couple’s brazen squabbling and the burgeoning problems faced by their young guests, Nick and Honey.
Inevitably, a play such as Albee’s, at nearly three hours long, and subsisting entirely on an undulating pace and biting dialogue, stands and falls by its performances. The cast here succeeds in pulling us into this fascinating, repellent world, with Irene MacDougall particularly impressive, morphing from drunken tease to hissing, spitting harridan as dreadful, tragic Martha.
Dundee Rep, until Sat 21 Mar