Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at The King’s Theatre in Edinburgh may at nearly 3 ½ hours including two short breaks be a bit of a marathon sitting for a dramatic work, but this production of Edward Albee’s classic by Glasgow’s Rapture Theatre and directed by Michael Emans is well worth the time. In fact, this story is so well acted and directed that the 3 hours plus of actual stage time pass all too quickly.
Edward Albee (1928 -2016) was without any doubt one of the most gifted writers of the 20th century, and this story of a dysfunctional older married couple whose marriage is held together now only by the pleasures they seem to take from vicious verbal sparring with one another, reflected regrets and a joint inability to tell reality from illusion at times, inviting a much younger couple into their home for drinks at 2AM (yes 2AM) is a warning to everyone of “who should be afraid of Virginia Woolf”. There is an open cruelty in the way that this young couple are forced to enter into this very emotionally charged world of their hosts and in so doing are torn apart.
To have an Edward Albee script like this to work with which is itself I think one of the great masterpieces of the English language must be a dream for any actor, and the pleasure of that does reflect itself in the performances on stage.
Our two always at war with one another characters, George and Martha, are outstandingly played by Sara Stewart and Robin Kingsland, and there is a real sense of the pleasure both get from inflicting misery on the other. There is still though at the core of this odd relationship, hidden between the public verbal humiliation that each hands out to the other, a strange deep sense of caring for one another left…traces of a long ago love affair are still there. George and Martha underneath all of the viciousness of their verbal abuse to one another would in the end still not know what to do without one another, and Sara Stewart and Robin Kingsland capture all of these emotions beautifully.
In stark contrast to them are our young couple Nick and Honey played by Paul Albertson and Rose Reynolds. Once the initial pleasantries are over though and it becomes clear that there is more to this couple than their initial homeliness and naivety, those perceived weaknesses are mercilessly exploited by George and Martha. Paul Albertson and Rose Reynolds are both excellent in this production and perfect foils to their hosts. Watching the characters and stories of Nick and Honey expand in this production is a pleasure to watch.
This is a classic production of a classic theatrical work and the story is so skilfully told that you just want to hear the next line, and the next one. There is almost a feeling of standing in the room unseen with all four of our characters as the intimacy and reality of the story is so real.
The decision to set this production in its original time period (the play was originally published in 1962) is the right one here as the story itelf has so many time references that really do not update well. Careful attention to design and set (Designer and Wardrobe Mistress Frances Collier) make this production a visual treat too.
Part of the “vision statement” from Rapture on their own website states “For Rapture to be recognised as Scotland’s premier touring theatre company”, and with a production like this the company is well on its way to that vision…simply dramatic theatre at its very best.
Review by Tom King