Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf is a classic play from 1962, with complexities and subtleties that make it challenging for even the strongest of casts. Thankfully, Directors Angela Short and Matthew Chapman have some of the finest performers in Adelaide to portray the two couples in this powerful psychological marital drama.
George and Martha live on a college campus and following a faculty party, Martha informs her professor husband, George, that she’s invited the newest faculty member and his young wife over for a nightcap. What follows is nothing short of carnage as the younger couple fall
victim to the mind games and manipulation of the older couple. Alcohol, sexual tension, profanities, diminishing prospects and failure to rise to familial expectations all add to the marital discord and play out in the three-hour slugfest.
Historian George is a colossal role, executed to great effect by the indomitable Brant Eustice. Eustice delivers all the nuances of this complex character who initially appears to be an ineffective husband, at Martha’s beck and call, and a victim of her frequent vicious tirades, but emerges as someone completely complicit in the mutual humiliation, vocal jousting and destructive fantasies. As Martha, Bronwyn Ruciak displays as much of the vulnerability and
heartbreak as the harshness and brutality. Her increasing intoxication fuels her decline and the audience ride the roller coaster of emotions with her, relishing George’s judicious retorts to the barrage of abuse she inflicts. Another outstanding performance.
Witness to this, and eventually party to the metaphorical boxing match, are Robert Bell as new Biology professor Nick, and Madeline Herd as his mousy wife, Honey. Bell encapsulates the arrogance of youth with the surety of the handsome bright scientist in the first act and is effective in depicting the destructive slide into the traps laid be his hosts, outwitted by George
into revealing too much of his own marital issues and seduced by Martha into attempted adultery. Herd has the difficult task of ensuring Honey is seen as more than the dim-witted bimbo wife we are first introduced to. As awareness of the fragility of her own marriage emerges, Herd delivers a character whose façade is disintegrating, piece by piece, revealing loneliness, confusion and pain and accentuated by the perpetual supply of brandy.
At well over three hours, with two short intervals, this is not for the faint hearted. Coupled with the decision to create a pseudo boxing ring, with ringside on-stage seating, the tragedy of the content and the striking performances make it an uncomfortable evening. Exactly as it should be. Congratulations to all involved.