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Vermaak | Entertainment > Teater | Theatre > Resensies | Reviews

Vicious Tenderness: A review of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Anton Krueger - 2007-08-14

On at The Market Theatre Main Stage

9 August - 30 September 2007

Written by Edward Albee
Directed by Janice Honeyman

Starring Sean Taylor, Fiona Ramsay, Nicholas Pauling, Erica Wessels.

Gags about bickering couples are so common as to be almost clichéd. From Andy Capp to the Lockhorns to the endless jokes about stupid husbands and bickering wives. I wonder why this is? Perhaps it's because this intersection of what Elias Canetti described as the "double crowd" of men and women is also an institution which (still) forms the basic building blocks of human society. A couple form the smallest tribe, and the domestic scenario is a site in which many larger social issues of commitment, cohesion and dissatisfaction can metaphorically be alluded to, as well as actively demonstrated.

Consequently the paradoxes of human relations – their vicious tenderness – can be accessibly portrayed and disseminated within the marriage scenario. Sexuality as a potent trope of power can also become a manifestation of the workings of desire and its control.

Perhaps part of what makes Edward Albee's text so remarkable is that it manages to sustain so many of these tensions. The games couples play and the reality they create can often consist of destructive patterns, and yet these rhythms are also, paradoxically, nurturing. The illusions one willingly sustains in a marriage can be cruel, can lead to suffering, remorse, and regret; and yet it is often these very illusions which are also simultaneously the constitutive building blocks of the relationship itself, the very ties that bind.

What's remarkable about this modern classic is that it contains such a wealth of metaphor, symbolism and deeper layers of meaning, and yet still manages to remain utterly, and devastatingly, realistic as it cuts to the absolute marrow. There are the unforgettable, seminal descriptions such as the tears in the ice trays, the intoxicated Honey and her whisky bottle saying that "we all peel labels", and Martha's Gatling gun laugh; and yet we never leave this sixties living room, we are never allowed outside of the arid authenticity of these living, breathing, sweating people.

Sean Taylor as George keeps the engine of the play steadily ticking along and Erica Wessels also does a fine job with Bunny. Perhaps it's because these two are the underdogs, the masochists of the piece, that it's easier for them to respond to the others. As in life, here the masochists hold the power. Nicholas Pauling was perhaps a slightly weak link, going a little bit too far in his drawl, and not always capturing Nick's arrogance. Some of his lines seem overplayed, and yet others lacked a necessary aggression. Perhaps the role might have been played with just a touch more intensity and a little more restraint. Nevertheless, this is a minor quibble and overall the cast pull it off with Fiona Ramsey (in possibly the most unflattering role of her career) perfectly capturing Martha's angry desperation.

Although it's a long sit in the theatre, with two intervals, the pace is frenetic from beginning to end and Janice Honeyman has worked in a number of innovative interpretations of the script. It's wonderful to enter a theatre tired and feel rejuvenated by the end of it; revitalised by a healthy text and great performances. A real treat.

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