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 study of marriage as war

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Highbury Theatre Centre, Sutton Coldfield


MARITAL viciousness and fantasy are the staple fare in the lives of a college professor and his wife – and Edward Albee's drama is superbly realised by the company of four in what is often a spellbinding production.

The scene is set when, at the invitation of the history professor's harridan wife, a young couple from the college turn up to join them at 2 am.

The professor, who is addicted to cruel interludes that he calls games, rapidly disconcerts his youthful colleague by presenting him with a mixture of feigned obtuseness and pig-headed awkwardness. Thus is the way prepared for a riveting drink-fuelled excursion through the small hours.

Not in real time, of course, although the action – which included a 20-minute interval and a five-minute comfort break – did last 190 minutes on the opening night. I would be surprised if any audience member begrudged a second of it.

The professor is George, played by Nigel Higgs, with Denise Phillips as his wife Martha, and their games become progressively more unpleasant. These are two huge roles in a remarkable pairing, soaked in bitterness and invective and characterised by nose-to-nose shouting matches which are utterly disconcerting in their impact.


There are no secrets between them: he calls her a deeply despicable woman – and he does have a point. She is strident, possessed of a vile cackle, and – once the young man from the biology department arrives as a distraction from the husband she makes a great play of loathing – insistently predatory.

The young man (Richard Rice-Grubb) rapidly makes it clear that he has no intention of becoming involved in the domestic warfare that greets him and his wife. Alas, you don't steer clear of George and Martha that easily. The result is a succession of verbal fisticuffs between George and Martha, George and Nick, and Nick and Martha – each episode a gem of high-decibel belligerence.

Nick's pretty young wife, Honey, is less involved in the verbal violence, but in her delightfully daffy way – all pigeon-toed posture with lots of rapid arm-flicking and rubbing of hands – she is inadvertently apt to fuel the flames with another inane remark.

Every character emerges as impressively natural, even allowing for the larger-than-life nature of two of them. And director Ian Appleby, who also designed the set with an air of spaciousness, ensures that there is always something to watch as well as listen to by keeping his actors on the move. They don't sit down for long: there are three settees and they flit frequently between them as well as making their many pilgrimages to the upstage bar.

This is an evening of scorching theatre. High drama is alive and well in Sutton Coldfield. To 26.6.10.

John Slim

0121 373 2761 (see website for times) 

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