Directed by Carla Moore
Theatre on Chester
Corner of Chester Street and Oxford Street, Epping
Season: 22 July – 13 August
George and Martha are a couple engaging in psychological warfare, their actions reeking of desperate unhappiness. Martha siphons in a younger unsuspecting couple – Nick and Honey – to air out their dirty laundry over a prolonged night of drinks back at Martha and George’s home. It gets messy. Prepare yourself. Carla Moore directs the Theatre on Chester production of Albee’s esteemed play, in what makes for volatile, unnerving - and yet amusing entertainment.
The play was penned in 1962, and was so successful on the stage that it was soon adapted to the silver screen in 1966. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton locked horns as Martha and George in the film, setting a ferocious precedent in the minds of any theatre-goer to the play from that day on. They are performances difficult to forget, especially that of Taylor. With this in mind, Alison Chambers and Martin Bell do a terrific job, forging their own portrayals of the mighty characters whilst holding on to the hiss and tender cruelty necessary to pack a punch. Chambers' depiction of Martha is cyclonic in her destruction. Switching effortless between tactics to undermine George, she enlists public humiliation, condescension, and contempt whilst revealing some of his deep secrets to virtual strangers. There is great complexity to Chambers' performance, and an observer can't help but feel that her actions are rooted in fear and insecurity. These weaknesses make her human and allow we as an audience to empathise with her. Chambers is nothing short of a powerhouse, rising deftly to the challenge of this mammoth role - hitting the nail on the head not only in her characterisation and subtext of Martha, but also in her brash comedic charm. Bell’s embodiment of George vacillates between pathetic, and being so riled up he could kill someone. This contrast is intriguing and keeps you on your toes. There is a strong sense of history in Bell’s performance and storytelling to Nick that leave you questioning the blur between whimsy and real life. Moore’s direction orchestrates the fluctuating dynamics with good stead to keep the audience engaged in what is a rather long play. This is a chemistry that has been carefully crafted to bring firmly to life the games and power-play that form the basis of Martha and George’s present day relationship.
Of course, Nick and Honey are the credulous young couple brought into the night’s proceedings to observe these petty mind games unfold between George and Martha. Matt Bevan plays Nick, and Emily McKnight performs Honey. I enjoyed seeing the power dynamics play out in Nick and Honey’s respective relationship, with Bevan always seeming to hold the upper hand over McKnight, depicting a Honey who is eager to compensate for other losses. However, I felt less engaged by this relationship, in spite of them carrying their own landmines to be dropped intermittently throughout the scenes. I didn’t feel the same sense of sadness and regret in their interactions, which detracted from the believability of their circumstances.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a play that illustrates the artillery of arms fired between people in the utmost intimate relationships, when they are swamped with dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Albee’s play is a masterpiece and Moore’s production paints with a broad range of strokes that encompass the multifaceted ways we can love and hurt as human beings. Wonderfully, the play doesn’t attempt to answer all of the questions that arise in its course, and in that vein – I still couldn’t tell you why the play is called “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” It certainly gets you thinking.