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Brilliance amid the games drunken people play

Martha (Andrea Close), George (Michael Sparks), Honey (Karina Hudson) and Nick (Joshua Wiseman) in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”.

Theatre / “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, directed by Cate Clelland. At ACT Hub until September 17. Reviewed by SIMONE PENKETHMAN.

UPON being asked to review this show, my first thought was: “Why is this play being mounted here and now?”

Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is now 60 years old. It’s an American play about a jaded, middle-aged academic and his alcoholic wife who terrorise a younger couple throughout a night of heavy drinking. It’s best known to many of us from the acclaimed 1964 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and her twice-married and divorced husband Richard Burton.

From its opening scenes, this cleverly-staged production by Free Rain Theatre brought the brilliance and dark hilarity of Albee’s text to life. 

Andrea Close, as Martha, owned her role with wit and swagger while Michael Sparks, as George, was in equal parts a dryly comic victim and a cruel aggressor.

The younger couple, Nick (Joshua Wiseman) and Honey (Karina Hudson) were well cast and worthy opponents in the various drunken psychological games played throughout the night: humiliate the host; hump the hostess; get the guests; and bringing up baby. 

The entire story is set in one room. Director and set designer Cate Clelland made good use of the wooden floors at the Hub to create an authentic, lounge room feel. Seating the audience in raised rows on three sides of the action brought a sense of intimacy to the space and heightened voyeurism to the audience experience.

Strong physical performances and confident direction ensured that energy ebbed and flowed throughout the show. At times, characters would turn away from the action and toward the audience allowing us close-up glimpses into their emotional state.

The text of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is surprisingly fresh. During one of the two intervals (it’s a long show), I heard someone remark on how relevant it is to Australian society today. To me this begs the question of why it was performed in assumed American accents. 

The voice-work was a highlight, particularly in the female characters. Assumed accents are almost invariably uneven and in this case, they detracted rather than added to the fine work on stage.

Of the three shows I have reviewed so far at the ACT Hub only one was written this century and two were performed in assumed American accents. 

With the high level of skill and dedication involved in the ACT Hub, I hope our local companies can be more adventurous in future programming.

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One Response to Brilliance amid the games drunken people play

Liz Loomes says: 11 September 2022 at 10:26 am

When a play is written by an American playwright famous for his comments on the American way of life, when the play itself addresses amongst other things a particularly American scenario and when you have four actors, one of whom IS American and the other three highly experienced and quite capable of producing genuine American accents… why wouldn’t you use American accents. God forbid theatre becomes a blurring homogeneous mirror of only our own image. And it’s all of 60 years old? The reviewer seems to be saying artists of 60 years ago had nothing to say to us today. What a strange notion. Or is she simply ageist?

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