Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Love wrapped in barbed wire

Battle lines: James Weetman (left) as George and Jean Wilde as Martha ready to open hostilities with Rachael Louise Pickhard as Honey and Oliver Harvey-Vallender as the never named Nick as hapless spectators

 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Hall Green Little Theatre


EDWARD Albee's 1962 dark, uncomfortable, at times funny dissection of a marriage is a landmark of modern theatre.

Fifty years on, even set in the 60s, it is still contemporary, still able to shock, able to make you squirm, think and even laugh, yet behind all the vicious barbs, verbal assaults and downright contempt shown between George and Martha, the marriage disected with the precision of a surgeon's knife, it is still essentially a love story.

One of the key scenes in this monster of a play is the final one when the guests have gone, or at least retreated to the safety of their home, and George and Martha are left alone, the battle over, at least for that drunken night.

Too often this is left as a lifeless scene with the two protagonists, exhausted after a night of fighting, merely calling a quiet truce but director Roy Palmer stays true to the cause showing us this is a couple that despite their tempestuous, venomous marriage, are still very much in love.

George is an associate professor in the history department at New Carthage, a small East Coast university. He is not the history department, not the head as his wife Martha, daughter of the college president tells him and anyone else who will listen.

The play depends upon the warring pair and in the red corner we have George played by James Weetman as a jaundiced 40 something whose only pleasure is playing word games and mind games with Martha –anyone else nearby just becomes target practice and collateral damage. He is more of a counter puncher when it comes to Martha but ne than happy to go on the attack against guests

Meanwhile in the blue corner we have Martha, played by Jean Wilde, who is an aggressive fighter, always on the font foot to poke fun and scorn at what she sees as her failure of her husband. She is six year's older - and always will be!

Weetman and Wilde are just stunning in the roles and you have to pinch yourself to remember that his is not a professional production. Through them you can sense George's anger and share Martha's pain and anguish, feel all their hurt and reel from the aggression.  

The couple, who, incidentally, have the same names as George Washington and his wife, arrive home from one of “daddy's faculty evenings” a little the worse for wear and as George pours the first or what will be many drinks Martha announces she has invited guests back, Nick, a new biology professor that Martha is convinced is in the math department, and his wife honey.

Nick has the distinction of being the only character whose name is never mentioned in the play.  Without a programme we would never know who he is. Whether that is just one of those things, a quirk of writing or an intentional move to show who he is hardly matters in the skirmish that follows only Albee knows.

Living a life of illusion: Weetman and Wilde produce a truly memorable performance as George and Martha

Oliver Harvey-Vallender gives a fine performance as the former college quarterback and boxing champ from small town Midwest who finds himself with a ringside seat along with wife Honey, played by Rachael Louise Pickhard.

Rachael has a difficult role as the non-too-bright Honey, naive daughter of a preacher man, who is seeing life through a blur of brandy. She is insignificant, used or should that be abused by George merely to antagonise Nick or Martha; on her own she is not seen as worthy to be graced by his prodigious talent to hurt. She is out of her depth from the moment  her slim hips walk her in; inconsequential it not the easiest role to play so it is to her credit we noticed her not being noticed if you see what I mean.

Nick and Honey start off as spectators but Nick starts to be drawn into the marital melee until he even thinks he can not only compete but even challenge the big hitters – big mistake. This is not boys against men, it is toddlers against men.

He is seduced by Martha, which is merely a more physical form of humiliation for him and another way to hurt George.

George has his revenge though as he unleashes all the ammunition he has collected through the night to batter Nick into submission.

And George is not finished there, landing the body blows to win the bout against Martha by a knockout in the dramatic finale.

It all takes place in the fragile hours before dawn when imagination battles with reality and amid the brandy, gin, bourbon and bile we are never sure what is truth and what is fancy as George and Martha peel off layer after layer to reveal pictures of their lives and marriage.

It is not all angst and aggression though, there is also humour, dark as night, but still funny for all that, all on a simple set designed by the director.

We have two settees and a chair to leave George and Martha sat yards apart at either side of the stage with Nick and Honey sitting in the middle as spectators watching the salvos fly overhead and taking damage whenever a shell drops short either by intention or accident.

If there is a fault it is a five minute break at the end of act one when George is left meandering aimlessly around the dimmed stage with the house lights still off and the audience unsure whether to stay or leave – make it ten minutes and let ‘em go out or at least talk.

This is an outstanding production of an outstanding play and really does deserve a larger audience than it attracted on the first night. In my first ever review of Who's afraid of Virginia Woolfe I described it as a love story wrapped in barbed wire and my opinion has never changed. For all the wounding, all the hurt, at its heart this a sad, tragic love story.

Forget the play's reputation as heavy going, as being worthy but dull, and certainly forget that this is an amateur production, this is theatre at its best. Performances like this don't come that often on any stage. To 25-05-13. 

Roger Clarke 

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