Edward Albee’s 1962 play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has lost none of its enduring appeal. Soon after its first performance 55 years ago it won a Tony Award for Best Play. A much loved film adaptation starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor followed, but tonight the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh is hosting a new interpretation which is hoping to prove the story is best experienced on the stage.
The story involves the characters of Martha (Sarah Stewart) and George (Robin Kingsland) who invite a younger couple, Nick (Paul Albertson) and Honey (Rose Reynolds), to their middle class home. The play takes place after an office party and further intake of alcohol ensues while Martha, George, Nick and Honey size each other up and get to know one another. Martha and George have a tempestuous and aggressive relationship. They rarely agree and take delight in humiliating each other. Nick and Honey are younger and more optimistic, but as the play progresses we discover their relationship is not as cosy and as resilient as they would like to portray. The interplay between the four characters is playful, comedic and revealing. With each line of dialogue, the intricacies of their personalities are revealed and the story is gently unfurled until it reaches its dramatic conclusion. It is during this climax that we realise why Martha and George have been playing games with one another and discover why their relationship is so destructive.
The performance itself is over three hours in length and two short intermissions barely give the audience time to rest. By the final act the characters of George and Martha feel far too over dramatic and their excessive and exaggerated gestures and dialogue start to aggravate. As the performance progresses, melodrama replaces comedy and the characters begin to lose their allure and attraction. Although the emotions presented on stage are complicated and the relationship between Martha and George is complex, three hours in their company is quite a tiring and exhausting experience. The quality in the writing is obvious, as the voice of all four characters feels authentic and genuine. The performances from the talented cast is also spot on, as the audience is drawn into the turbulent drama, but spending such a long time in the company of four drunk and disagreeable characters is a big ask of even the most attentive of audiences.