Monday 19 March 2018

Review: A triumph of spellbinding proportions

Theatre: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Gate Theatre, Dublin

Youthful hardman: Mark Huberman. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Youthful hardman: Mark Huberman. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

Katy Hayes

Edward Albee's 1962 play receives a top-flight production with four scintillating performances leading to a deeply moving and dramatic climax.

New England history professor George and his wife Martha, the daughter of the college president, arrive home drunk from a university party at 2am. They invite a newly recruited young biology professor and his wife in for a nightcap.

Director David Grindley cleverly places the younger couple centre stage, thus not allowing the veteran warriors run away with the piece. Denis Conway as George has a hen-pecked air, as he mixes copious amounts of drink. But he slowly musters his energies for the fight, which becomes vicious. Mark Huberman as Nick gives it plenty of youthful hard-man, all thrusting ambition and delusional self-regard, but almost sweet. Sophie Robinson as Honey is pure undiluted idiot. Conway is the only actor allowed some showmanship; the petty show-off is all that remains of George's still-born literary ambitions. The script is full of witty lines, but the production is pitched for seriousness and is all the more hilarious for that.

Set and costume designer Jonathan Fensom creates perfect visuals: dark mahogany bookshelves and deep red drapes, lit with Jayson Taylor's honey-toned table lamps. Academia undercut with the bordello. Martha's black top, occasionally revealing black bra-straps, says it all.

Spoiled Martha, with chronic daddy issues, is a boozed-up monument to thwarted ambition.

Fiona Bell is good looking and sexy, and hits all the complex registers of this fiery but deeply sad character. She describes the two men as "flops," one in the academic boardroom, the other in the bedroom. The play still feels fresh after 50 years, in part because the taboo surrounding libidinous, complicated women endures. We simply don't see enough of them on the stage. A spellbinding and completely entertaining evening of pure theatre.

Irish Independent

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