Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Probably every director and actor who has ever been involved in this epic and ground-breaking production!
Obtaining success with this mammothly intricate and hugely demanding work is rather like trying to maneuver an exploding Boeing aeroplane on ice skates around a slippery stage for three hours as the drama unfolds and the blackness of the lead characters detonates all over the stage.
The play is enormous, scary, powerful, and disturbingly brilliant.
Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? is essentially about a destructive co-dependant relationship between an older married couple, in which the husband and wife cruelly act out their totally dysfunctional relationship and push themselves and their two younger house guests to their emotional limits.
Lead characters and spouses, Martha and George, match each other head on with composite strengths, intricate power plays, and dangerously coax each other in the same painful and emotionally wrought toxic direction.
Many will remember the piercing brilliance of Elizabeth Taylor when she played Martha in the 1965 film. She relentlessly tore into real life and character husband, Richard Burton; her emotional recreation of Edward Albee’s psychotic character quite deservedly won her an Oscar for the leading role.
Indeed, whoever plays the role of Martha needs to be astonishingly brilliant, as she is the catalyst who propels all the others on their dangerous emotional journey. She has to be spellbinding, hypnotic and magnificent in order for the play to succeed.
Fiona Ramsay who plays Martha in this current production, does not manage to pull this off. She is powerful, but not passionate; rehearsed, but not released; captivating, but not convincing. I feel she did not reach deep enough within herself to feel the powerful emotions, nor reflect the right tonal nuances and modulation in her voice.
Ramsay fails by a hairs’ breath to create the necessary pivotal spellbinding magic. It is only in the third act when she bemoans “…23 years of you has been quite enough,” that I felt she started to connect emotionally and really feel the role. From then on I found her performance far more credible and real.
Sean Taylor, who has returned from Australia to play husband George, gives an admirable performance. I felt his energy was a notch too low in the first act, but he came into his own in the second and third acts. George is an intriguing and irascible character to play, and Taylor manages to quite skillfully get the most out of the role.
The support cast is excellent. Nicholas Pauling who plays Nick is funny, credible and really captures his character. Erica Wessels, his naÃ¯ve and silly wife, also delivers a fine performance which is delicately balanced between being borderline silly and not coming across as too corny. I really enjoyed this pair and their fine portrayals.
The set itself is uninspiring, and not in keeping with its genre. Modern contemporary sofas are positioned in front of very obviously stained pine wood cottagy furnishings, and the appropriate 1950’s ambience is not created. Lighting effects are hardly worth mentioning. The set does not really support the drama nor sufficiently create the adequate atmosphere of world of the characters.
By the end, the cast received a standing ovation. It was only I who was sitting, writing notes, and pulling it to pieces. Go and see it for yourself. Make your own decision.
Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? is on at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town, until August 4, after which it will move to the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and the State Theatre in Pretoria. Book through Computicket.