Though unafraid of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee’s play did, at points, have me jumping out of my seat. Take the pig-headedness of a drunken brawl, and filter it through some intellectual minds; douse this with the age-old issue of being boxed inside an unhappy marriage, and finally add the cherries on top – two awkward guests who are (at first) as tight-skinned as onions. Plus masses of alcohol, of course. This is the cunningly brutal cocktail that our performers had forced us to down along with them in their absurd pageant.
The craziest (and in my humble opinion, most exciting) part of this performance was the way you almost feel present: George and a Martha might well be mentally clubbing each other to death in front of you. At first, you almost feel like you’re intruding. A front-row seat meant that at points I was literally sitting a few inches away from George. Being squeezed into a room about the size of a luxurious living room, with curtains drawn against the cheerful, sunny view of Brasenose, you are lulled into a false sense of security. From the word go, you’re locked into place by the easy bickering (or bellowing), the interrupting and the talking over one another – you follow it at the same pace as any other conversation. If you actually read the script, I’ve no doubt you’d pick up a billion more stinging puns than the few thousand that flew back and forth like pins – but you wouldn’t get the same hot-cold concoction of hard fear as you watch four real people let loose on each other. Sound exaggerated? There was even a fight scene.
Although you do end up leaving your cosy seat more than slightly traumatized, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? isn’t just a truckload of insanity and malice being tipped onto your head. Jokes, and good ones too, are thrown in so casually that it’s hard to believe it’s scripted. And don’t forget those die-hard practical jokes, too – nothing adds more flavour to sheer horror than humour.
A laugh or no – this play was certainly a scream.