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REVIEW: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

A compelling and impressively powerful production

As the temperature inside the Corpus Playroom rose, so did the intensity of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: by the final scenes, both had reached frenetic heights. The intimacy of the Corpus Playroom provided an ideal setting, emphasising the claustrophobic atmosphere of the play and giving the audience a truly immersive experience. The action takes place solely in a sitting room, on the campus of a New England university. It opens with Martha (Shimali De Silva), the daughter of the president of the university, and her beleaguered husband George (Joe Tyler Todd), stumbling home at 2am from a party. The verbal sparring begins immediately and becomes ever more vicious with the arrival of Nick (Milo Callaghan), a new biology professor, and Honey (Annabelle Haworth), his simpering wife.

The cast of four worked very well together, weaving a complex web of relationship and power dynamics. Their American accents were, on the whole, convincing. Particular mention should go to Shimali De Silva as Martha, who was assured and charismatic from the outset, commanding attention from both her husband and the entire audience. Martha’s strength throughout made her vulnerability in the final scene all the more stark, and the increase in white light as she delivered her last poignant confession was well-judged by lighting designer Eduardo Strike.

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The decision to pause for a two-minute break between each of the three acts was wise; the play often feels like a relentless test of endurance for cast and audience alike, so there needs to be ebb and flow to prevent all concerned from feeling jaded. The cast made good use of the play’s humour to defuse the tension temporarily, and Honey in particular provided welcome moments of comic relief. The play has many moments of awkwardness, and the four actors did not shy away from these, often drawing attention to them with convincing nervous laughter.

The simplicity of the set, designed by Stanley Thomas, allowed the cast to move fluidly and naturalistically between the sofa and drinks cabinet, consuming endless brandys and bourbons. The cast played various states of inebriation convincingly, and moments of over-exaggeration were few and far between.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is, appropriately, a fearless production: it challenges and shocks the audience, forces them to watch the deepest secrets of marriages being exposed. The play is, above all, about words and their power to beguile, persuade, deceive, and wound. This production has a rawness that allows Albee’s words to resonate to their full potential, and so I’d encourage you to go, brave the heat, and watch this remarkable production in its intense, unadulterated glory.

4.5/5 stars

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is on at the Corpus Playroom until Saturday 12th May