Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh – until 17 October
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
There is much to admire in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Bedlam. Accomplished performances of challenging roles and well thought-out direction make for a successful production.
Edward Albee’s much-admired 1962 play features George and Martha, a middle-aged couple seemingly bent on destroying each other. Nick and Honey are a younger couple who unwittingly stumble into the midst of their battles after a ‘faculty party’ at the New England university where Martha is the daughter of the college president, George a disappointed history teacher, and Nick the new recruit to the biology department.
As truth and illusion seem to merge, and bitter truths emerge, the characters stray so far from conventional realism that they seem largely symbolic. Whether this refers to the collapse of the American Dream, the explosion of the Republican dream of the nuclear family, or something else entirely, is up for debate. Either way it is unlikely the choice of the names George and Martha – as in Washington – was any kind of accident. This can make them very difficult to play, but all of the cast here have a more than decent stab at it.
Henry Conklin’s George is a dead ringer for a young Orson Welles in both delivery and floppy hair. His performance is impressive, and is more brooding and controlled than can be the case. This leads to a characterisation that is a sadistic manipulator rather than the troubled, perhaps even bipolar, individual he is often thought to be.
Catherine Elms’ Martha is much less controlled and emotionally raw; she seems less able to help herself and is more sympathetic as a result.
While both performances are very good, there are too many moments when the volume drops to such an extent that they become practically inaudible to all but the front row. That this tends to happen at crucial or revealing moments is doubly unfortunate.
Henry Conklin and Macleod Stephen. Photo: Audrey Fawkes Photography
Macleod Stephen’s uptight Nick is effective when he first enters, but he never seems to relax into the part, and when the character is hopelessly drunk his performance does not quite ring true. Jodie Mitchell wrings every drop of humour out of Honey, but while she is very funny this is sometimes at the expense of creating a rounded, more believable character.
All four performances are certainly well sustained and consistent, even if (with the exception of Elms) there is a lack of that devilish sparkle that could really ignite proceedings.
Pedro Leandro’s direction manages to inject enough variety into what can be a fairly stagey and repetitive affair visually. This is done clearly and unfussily, and a comparatively static and lugubrious opening to the second act merely reinforces how well it is done the rest of the time.
Rose McCormack’s costumes and Isabella De Vere Roberts’s hair and make-up are particularly impressive, subtly establishing a real sense of period that is largely confirmed by Luise Kocaurek’s clever and practical set.
Catherine Elms: Photo Audrey Fawkes Photography
The full three act version of the play can be something of an endurance test, but here there is little sense of time dragging. Perhaps two ten-minute intervals would be a better idea than the pattern here – a longer one between Acts One and Two, and a much shorter second interval – and it could all be just a little slicker, but otherwise this is a production that gets a great deal right.
Running time 2 hours 55 mins (two intervals)
Bedlam Theatre, 11 Bristo Place,, EH1 1EZ
Tuesday 13 – Saturday 17 October 2015
Evenings 7.30 pm
Details and tickets from: https://www.bedlamtheatre.co.uk/shows/virginia-woolf