(5 / 5)
It is difficult to say exactly what “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is about and that was exactly what its writer, Edward Albee, intended. Some may say it is about marriage but it tackles so much more than that including topics like politics, morality and the human condition. However, what is at the heart of the play is truth and illusion.
The play moves from illusion to truth and as the audience progresses deeper and deeper into the stories we begin to realise what is going on behind the idyllic illusion presented by each of the couples. Even today this portrayal resonates with modern audiences due to the importance placed on appearance and what we should and shouldn’t know about one another. Of course, all these boundaries fall away and soon we are left with an overwhelming tension between the characters whether this be due to anger, betrayal or desire. The claustrophobic use of the living room – the sole setting – only emphasises the isolation and confinement of each character.
Although all four cast members gave stunning performances, the audience can’t help but be drawn to Imelda Staunton as Martha, a bullying wife hiding her fragile mental state, and Conleth Hill as George, the bitter husband burdened by his failures. You cannot take your eyes of this pair whether it be during the hide-behind-your-hands low blows of their arguments or the unusual calmer moments that still wreak of hostility.
As a whole, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is a classic play which resonates with all audience members because, as said in one of the pre-show interviews, what is special about this play is that it has no strict description but instead is about whatever the audience take from it. An intense performance and beautifully crafted set propels this high tension drama into nerves-inducing brilliance.
National Theatre Live: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Gwyn Hall, Neath
May 19th 2017
Running time: 3 hrs
Author: Edward Albee
Director: James MacDonald
Design: Tom Pye (Designer), Charles Balfour (Lighting), Adam Cork (Sound and Music), Carole Hancock (Hair, Wigs and Make-up), Amy Ball (Casting), John Haidar (Assistant Director), Bret Yount (Fights), Penny Dyer (Dialect/ Voice), Imogen Knight (Choreography).
Cast: Imelda Staunton, Conleth Hill, Imogen Poots, Luke Treadaway
High up in the God’s, this wonderful theatre (The Savoy) is currently housing the renowned and critically acclaimed ‘Gypsy’ starring Imelda Staunton. With tickets selling fast, it was understandable that such a lengthy theatre in height was filling up every night, and so my interest continued escalating.
The story behind Gypsy is based upon true events of the Burlesque actress, Gypsy Rose Lee. Taken from her memoirs, the musical sees the hardship and struggle of Louise (later to become Gypsy) as the shadow of her performing sister, and her determined Mother, struggling to keep grips with her youth and dream of stardom. Events take place, where Rose and Gypsy happen to be in the right place at the right time to perform in the House of Burlesque, where Gypsy is created. This tale of triumph, difficult beginnings and relationships hits every nerve and every feeling.
The staging itself was beautiful and very clever. Scenes appeared and disappeared with a never ending back stage, floating into the shadows and were simple yet effective in illustrating the different areas. No expense has been spared on these ever changing scenes which are rarely used twice, to bring the sense of the character’s constant travelling. Lighting beautifully enhanced specific characters and areas, drawing your eye to the correct moment and to the specific details of the performance. Costumes were also relatable to the times and enhanced each character’s personality correctly. The end costumes of Gypsy, are astounding and lavish – what every vintage loving girl dreams of wearing (including myself!).
Of course, a review could not be written without mentioning Ms Staunton herself. And where could I start? Well known in the acting world, some may have seen her in the likes of Vera Drake and the more contemporary, Harry Potter- it is well known what a fantastic actress she is and the passion and creative skill she has for her characters and projects. However, to see her as Rose, the mother in Gypsy, is something different. Something spell bounding. To quote a patron I heard on the night:
‘I knew she could act but… I didn’t know she could do that! THAT was … something else!’.
Staunton has what myself was unknown of, and that is an incredible voice! Singing every song sent shivers down your spine; her final song, ‘Rose’s Turn’ raised every goose bump and every hair.
Laura Pulver, as Gypsy also brought an amazing depth to the show. Perhaps easy to be in the shadow of Staunton, she makes Gypsy her own and stands out in her own right. Known for shows such as Sherlock and Robin Hood, Pulver brings a completely difference essence to the stage than what you see on television. Her dramatic change from mousey Louise, slowly to sultry Gypsy Rose Lee is fantastic in her change of personality, look, body language and even change in her voice. She shows, simplistically but in a very talented way the growth in age and maturity of the character, so convincingly that it is hard to forget this truth when you feel as if you are growing with her.
If you do anything with yourself till November, make a date with Gypsy. The musical will take you under her spell as Gypsy Rose Lee was known well to do herself.