Review: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Boozing and sniping galore in Urban Aphrodite's spring show

Photo: Milton Menefee

Dir Ann James

Cast Martha, Natasha Portwood; George, Mark Edwards; Nick, John Prakapas; Honey, Kate Robards 


Written by American playwright Edward Albee in 1962, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? shot to fame following its 1966 film adaptation staring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, whose explosive relationship added a terse extra dimension to the play's already toxic central partnership locked in a battle of words. 

 

The story focuses on George and Martha, who invite new professor Nick and his boozy wife Honey (both never mentioned by name) over after a university faculty party, only to engage in a night of vitriolic verbal foreplay with both one another and the younger couple.

 

This production, from acting coach Ann James' theatre company Urban Aphrodite, marks the group's first performance in a new collaboration with Sasha's. The theatre company have partnered with the Dongping Lu restaurant to take over their third floor attic space for a one year residency (set to include Noel Coward’s Hayfever later in the spring) and it's a good fit. 

 

With it's low-beamed ceilings and tiny stage area furnished with homey ‘60s-style interior pieces by FACE Furniture (supposedly everything on the set is for sale after production) the intimate space works well. The audience are quite-literally perched on the edge of the action, like a fifth, unacknowledged guest in the living room, eavesdropping on the most uncomfortable of parties. This is especially true for the audience block seated on the stage, which actors walk perilously close to while navigating the standalone drinks cabinet – beware trodden feet.



 

Director James, took the bold decision to run the near three hour play unabridged, which is a long haul and may be tough going for some, especially during the tense third act.

 

The excellent ensemble cast, however, mostly veterans of Shanghai's amateur dramatic companies, including East West and the Shanghai Repertory Company, all shine in equal but very different ways in their respective roles, keeping our attention through the drinking (no one is without a tumbler full of Bourbon for long), infighting and emotional breakdowns, so the night doesn’t feel like a slog. 

 

Natasha Portwood is particularly noteworthy as Martha, whose character dominates the stage, cranking up the bitchiness for a battle of wills and revelling in everyone else’s discomfort. Constantly sniping at beleaguered husband George (Mark Edwards – also very good when throwing off the yolk later in the play) she starts boozed up and descends further into vitriol.

 

It’s not all as intense as it sounds however. There is some lovely physical comedy from Kate Robards as the delicate (or slim-hipped) Honey, who quickly sickens from all the alcohol, rocking herself better with the brandy bottle and attempting interpretive dance on the throw rug. The young couple, completed by wholesome All-American husband Nick (John Prakapas) are a good light-hearted foil for the sniping, before they too get caught in the web by Martha and George.

 

Assuming the cast are able to continue at the same impressive level of stamina required to keep up the emotionally draining pace needed for the full six night run, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a promising start to the troupe's planned year.

 

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is at Sasha's (third floor) from Thursday 28- Saturday 30 March. See full event detailsPre-order tickets at 187 2152 8625 or tickets@urbanaphrodite.nl

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