Before I begin the review proper, a brief disclaimer: the preview I saw of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was just that – a preview. It featured only three scenes out of a play of three acts. As such, take the following unrelenting stream of praise with a pinch of salt; it may not be representative of the play as a whole. But I sincerely hope, and somewhat suspect, that it is.
To begin, the cast: they are each a perfect fit for their respective roles, and for a play that consists of nothing but four people in a night of perverse, drunken arguments and mind games, nothing less than perfect would suffice. Amelia Sparling, as Martha, oscillates beautifully between savagely humiliating her husband George (Nick Williams) and seductively charming him to get her way. Williams and Sparling have a genuine energy between them; the sense of equally passionate love and hatred is palpable in every line. The second couple, Nick and Honey (Ed Barr-Sim and Tanya Lacey-Solyma) are equally well matched in their roles: the dull, personality-free mathematics professor, and his shrill, irritating wife, who act as pawns and sounding boards in George and Martha’s power struggles.
Not only is every characterisation brilliantly engaging and effortlessly realistic, but director Josephine Mitchell seems to have achieved the holy grail of amateur acting: training her cast to be convincing drunks. For a play in which every character is more or less perpetually inebriated, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf invites the possibility of some truly cringe worthy performances. However, that is far from the case here. Every dropped word, every stumble, every stare is utterly and completely credible. Nick’s quiet satisfaction behind each sip of bourbon; George’s sneering looks into the middle distance as he reminisces; Martha’s unbridled, hysterical glee as she recklessly goads her husband on – every performance is compellingly addictive to watch. In particular, Honey’s drunken dash out of the living room to empty her guts will, I imagine, strike a special chord with much of the student audience.
The choice to perform in the Platanaeur room, a respectable, wood panelled space tucked away in the corridors of Brasenose College was an excellent one. The venue is both an intimate and a natural one, the very image of a middle class living room, where the audience can physically feel every emotion, every loaded question and every glance this spectacular cast throw around the set. This is a performance of an infinitely entertaining and engaging play that has executed perfectly. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I really, really think you should go and see this play: it is certainly the best of the dramatic offerings of Brasenose Arts Week, and very possibly the most accomplished student production you’ll see this term.