Review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Joe Lichtenstein brings Edward Albee’s contentious drama to life with enthralling results. reviews

Director: Joe Lichtenstein
Producer: Iseult Smith
Verdict: 4 Stars

Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ is a terrific choice of production for the drama barn, as the small cast and subtle word play can be closely examined in the intimate setting. Director Joe Lichtenstein’s production gives complete justice to Albee’s tremendous play.

Lichtenstein cleverly interprets the relatable characters: the seemingly dull academic George (James Oliver), his eccentric and vivacious wife Martha (Ali Skamangas), and their late night cocktail guests, Nick (Rory Hern) and Honey (Sophie Mann). Nick and Honey are a young naïve couple unfortunately unprepared for the forthcoming evening’s battle. This portrayal of the demise of society in post-war America, demonstrated by the crumbling relationships, is well handled by a fantastic cast.

We are directly confronted by an animatedly acrimonious relationship. The stand out performance must be awarded to James Oliver, whose comic timing is impeccable, delivering the beautifully constructed word-play script skilfully. These talents help him to perform the intelligently wily character who puppeteers the uncomfortable events of the entire evening. Oliver is well supported by Skamangas who utterly commits to her role and helps us to relate to the self-destructive wife, concerned with the impending downfall of her bitter relationship.

Martha and George are joined by a fresh-faced couple, Nick and Honey. Hern proficiently portrays the fatefully arrogant Nick, who mistakenly believes himself to be equipped for the witty, dramatic battle unravelling between Martha and George. By contrast, Honey descends into a worrying state of inebriation and operates simply on a superficial level of the narrative. The endearingly dim wife totters around the stage, fantastically oblivious to the destructive events happening around her. This seemingly perfect yet naïve couple are toyed with and tested by their manipulative counterparts. As the plot unravels, we learn that all is not what it seems; the façade of social niceties drops and our grasp of reality and fiction is tested.

When Albee’s play opened 50 years ago, the production was so shocking it was denied the 1963 Pulitzer prize on ‘obscenity’ grounds. Joe Lichtenstein accesses this original controversy with heavy sexual content, plenty of smoking on stage, and, as you would expect, scenes of a violent nature. This production of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe’ is a performance worthy of the West-End stage. Despite the length of the production – three acts of 45 minutes separated by two ten minute intervals – the audience was enthralled for the performance’s entirety.

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