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

A love story wrapped in barbed wire

Who's afraid? George, Keith Thompson, dances with Honey, Janet Bright while Martha, Sue Smith, screams on as the booze and insults flow

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Swan Theatre Amateur Company


Edward Albee's brutal 1962 dissection of a relationship is one of the great plays of the 20th century.It is vicious, cruel, vindictive and painful yet beneath it all is a love story.

It is not exactly Mills & Boon but all the same it is still a love story – even, as I have said in the past, if it is wrapped in barbed wire.

George is an assistant history professor at a small East Coast American university, married to Martha, daughter of the college President. She sees George as a failure in not having taken over the history department, nor being in line to take over from her father to run the college.

Their marriage survives by the pair poking verbal sticks at each other, pushing the boundaries of hurt. Their whole life has become a manic game.

So when a new teacher arrives and is invited back to George and Martha's for drinks – and lots of them - in the early hours after a college faculty social evening, we are witnesses to the invite from Hell.

Nick, whose name is never mentioned throughout the play, and wife Honey find that not only are they caught up in George and Martha's games but are involved in games of their own whether they like it, or even know it.

Their lives become as exposed as those of George and Martha who live in a world were truth and fantasy are seemingly interchangeable.

Keith Thompson as George produces a colossus of a performance which commands the stage. His George has moments of fun, flashes of anger, touches of anguish and a strange affection for Martha.

Sue Smith is a perfect foil as Martha, belittling George at every opportunity and making no bones about her somewhat loose morality when it comes to bedding other staff including her blatant seduction of Nick.

She screams, schemes and does all she can to infuriate George, including talking about their son when she has been specifically asked not to,  and as the booze flows her punches become bigger and land harder – although it is George, who looks as if he is losing on points, who finally lands the knock-out blow and we finally see Marth's vulnerability.


Nick, played beautifully with a naïve bewilderment by Kit Windows-Yule eventually tries to take on George and Martha in the games but this is boys against men and he is outclassed and outplayed at every turn while bimbo wife Honey, played by Janet Bright, spends her time between throwing up and drinking brandy.

Bright manages the difficult task of appearing to slowly become more and more drunk with real conviction. All too often we see sober people trying to appear as they think drunks might act – with Honey  you could well believe she was on a real bender as her sense and  inhibitions sank under the brandy. An excellently measured performance.

These are four huge parts demanding concentration and decent American accents and all four came through with flying colours and – just as important – the accents were consistent.

Director Mark Dugmore kept up a fair old pace – important in a play of approaching three hours – in what is a quite stunning production.

There were a few niggles; when Martha and Nick are dancing the music from the record player tended to drown out the dialogue – which was important as George's truth and fantasy were  being questioned - while the record player itself had its lead tucked in with the deck. We know it wasn't actually playing but at least make it look as if it is plugged in so we can at least pretend.

Minor niggles but worth a mention.

The play is perhaps best remembered for the 1966 Mike Nichols film starring Elizabeth Taylor as Martha and Richard Burton as George with George Segal as Nick and Sandy Dennis as Honey but the stage is its real home and this is a production which simply sparkles and deserves to be seen and savoured.

Roger Clarke 

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