State Theatre Company Review: Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who: State Theatre Company South Australia

What: Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Where: Dunstan Playhouse

When: 27 Jan – 6 Feb 2022

Link: Click here

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? STCSA
Jimi Bani, Rashidi Edward and Susan Prior in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for State Theatre Company South Australia

“George: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Martha: I am, George. I am.”

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf shocked audiences at the time it was released on Broadway in 1962. Some labelled it ‘perverse’ and ‘dirty minded’ because of the profanity and hateful dialogue between the characters. Yet, it was a huge success commercially and touted as marking a new era in American drama, and it has had continued to have success in theatres for the last 60 years because of the themes Albee explores, like ‘reality versus illusion’ and ‘the American Dream’ which remain relevant to many aspects of American society today.

Subsequently, there is great potential for director Margaret Harvey, through her approach to colour and cultural conscious casting, as well as the opportunity to bring the themes of Albee’s writing into the modern Australian context. All four actors have been purposefully cast to be racially diverse, all non-white except Martha, played by Susan Prior. This cleverly added layers to the dialogue and created unspoken tensions between the characters.

As the only non-white person, in the context of this performance Martha’s character’s position is strikingly more crucial. Prior plays the boisterous and dominating Martha, the daughter of “daddy’s” university where both her husband George (Jimi Bani) and newly appointed Nick (Rashidi Edward) are tenured, placing her in prime position to manipulate and take advantage of them both. Through such intentional casting, Harvey has captured the tacit tension about class, age, gender, and sexuality between these characters.

Rashidi Edward, Susan Prior, Margaret Harvey, Juanita Navas-Nguyen and Jimi Bani for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? State Theatre Company South Australia

However, considering the characters are paired as two married couples, I wish I felt a deeper sense of connection and familiarity of these relationships on stage between them. For example, although George and Martha’s lines denoted believable snipes and jabs of a long-term marriage, at times it felt like merely reciting lines between actors on stage.

The main platform on the stage was minimal, with white angular bench seats, a distinctive sculptural mask in a display case in the middle of the room and surrounded by plastic panelling that was progressively removed throughout the performance. In addition, the platform base was surrounded by a water moat, the imagery of which was reminiscent of a mausoleum if not for the backdrop which was distractingly chaotic – with variations of the play’s title repeatedly scrawled in white chalk all over.

I must commend the way tension was built throughout the performance, as we progress through the acts, we witness the characters become more unhinged. They lose the filters of formality and cordial niceties you wear as a host or guest. It becomes strangely understandable to witness Nick and Honey allow themselves to become entrenched in the intimate drama of Martha and George, despite being able to leave the party at any stage of the night.

Juanita Navas-Nguyen in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for State Theatre Company South Australia

In addition, the stage lighting was fabulous. It was notable the way it would artfully fade or lower to denote different environments or change the atmosphere between the house and garden scenes. It was cleverly used to influence the mood on stage and a truly redeeming quality of the show.

As a warning for theatre goers, it is a marathon to get through this performance, with three acts and a runtime of 3 hours and 15 minutes. You need to be the kind of person who has the stamina to forget the outside world and allow yourself to be raptured by the stage. It is an excellent opportunity to get out of isolation, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of heading back to the theatre. The staff were diligent in creating a COVID safe environment, ensuring that everyone had the relevant check-ins, vaccination passports, and hand sanitiser stations galore. See you there!

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