Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Amy Scott is grabbed by Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in the Drama Barn.

The Drama Barn’s first production of the year got off to an appropriately dramatic start. Having failed to obtain the rights to the play during the rehearsal process, it seemed like James Spinney’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? would have to be performed for free in the Dixon Drama Studio in the faraway land of Wentworth. However, in the world of theatre it seems it’s not what you know but who you know, and DramaSoc’s recent visitor, director David Thacker, pulled a few strings after his recent Open Drama workshop and the cast were allowed to take up residence in the Barn after all.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has had a successful performance history, but is perhaps best known for the 1966 film version, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The significance of the play’s title derives from a spoof of the Disney song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?’ which one of the characters coins early on in the play. The title sums up well the play’s mix of petty childishness and intellectual sharpness. Our protagonists are a married couple called Martha and George. George is a professor of History at the university of which his wife’s father is President. So far, so discontent. After a drunken faculty party, Martha has invited a new teacher called Nick and his wife, known only as ‘Honey’, back for drinks in the couple’s home. As the evening continues, Martha and George’s marital difficulties become clear, and the bickering escalates, making the younger couple extremely embarrassed, if still somehow fascinated.

And so, one rather tired director and a very nervous producer later, we arrive at what can now officially be referred to as DramaSoc’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Firstly we have York’s very own Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; Anna Rohde and Patrick Rogers, as the catty Martha and George. As supporting cast we had Alan Stewart playing Nick, and Emma Charnley as his wife, Honey. With a cast this small, a running time of three and a half hours, and a very wordy text, there was a lot of pressure on the four to hold it together, and they did a fantastic job.

Rogers, continuing his position in a fine tradition of tortured academics after last year’s Hedda Gabler, walked the line between intellectual wit and crazed madman. His unpredictable delivery kept his house guests on the edge of their seats, as well as the audience (if any other position is possible in the Drama Barn). Stewart, although playing a character mostly designed for Martha and George to bounce off, did admirably. His despair after failing to ‘get it up’ after a romantic clinch with Martha has to go down as one of the most memorable moments of the night.

Charnley perhaps had the hardest job, in an underwritten character, drunk for most of the play, though still capable of making somewhat astounding revelations. However, she pulled it off with aplomb, very funny, very cute and very, very drunk. But, the show stealer award has to go this time to Rohde’s heavy-drinking, stocking-flashing Martha. Engaging from the start, certainly funny, but also painfully sad, even a somewhat awkward wardrobe malfunction in the second act couldn’t stop her.

The set was perfected to the last detail, except for a sign on the piano which read; ‘The show may be cancelled at any point without any notice, for no reason whatsoever!’. Whether a cast in-joke or a reference to their ongoing difficulties obtaining the rights, it seemed a shame to lower the professionalism of the production like this. The intricacy of the set was impressive; a study area and full bookshelf, a piano, a record player and Laura Ashley wallpaper being just a few examples. However, the majority of the set dressing was superfluous, especially as the cast was so strong. All these actors really needed were the seating and drinks cabinet .

There were only a few minor difficulties overall, such as the debate over Martha’s green eyes, when Rohde has perhaps the most obvious bright blue eyes I’ve ever seen. However, the only real problem was the length. If DramaSoc are going to keep giving the go ahead to productions this long, they really need to consider installing some form of back rest in the Barn. It was a shame to end what should have been a fantastic night in extreme discomfort. Still, a great night and a great production.

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