Review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Explosive double-act is mesmerising

Robin Kingsland and Sara Stewart in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Robin Kingsland and Sara Stewart in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
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VISCERAL and uncompromising, Robin Kingsland and Sara Stewart flay their emotions raw in Rapture Theatre’s new production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

King’s Theatre, Leven Street

* * * * * *

A play in three acts, Edward Albee’s modern classic is a mammoth learn for both, and while it may have premiered on Broadway in 1962 and is in many ways of its time, the humanity at its heart remains timeless.

A gloriously dark study of middle-class dysfunctional domesticity, the piece is set in the academia of America in the swinging sixties.

George is married to Martha, daughter of the President of the university that employs him.

Following a faculty party to welcome new staff, he discovers his wife of 23 years has invited the new biology tutor Nick and his wife Honey to continue the party into the wee small hours at their home.

Both already the worse for wear, they welcome the newcomers into their skewed world where nothing as it seems and where love and hate merge into one.

It’s a disturbing observation of alcoholism, mental health and loss, it’s also laugh out funny, laced with a gallows’ humour born of despair.

As the evening unfolds and Martha, George, Nick and Honey descend into alcoholic oblivion, Albee’s skill as a wordsmith reigns supreme.

Word plays and seemingly incoherent rambling flow effortlessly in a stream of drunken warped, and often hilarious consciousness.

Whether braying, growling, hissing, spitting, bitching or sniping, Stewart as Martha is as bewitching as she is imposing. Relishing the psychotic nature of her character, she delivers a career-defining performance.

As long-suffering husband George, Kingsland matches her every step of the way, whimpering, manipulating and conniving.

It’s an unflinching performance and together, he and Stewart are a blistering combination, an explosive double-act just waiting for one or the other, or indeed an outsider, to light the touch paper and step back... Enter Paul Albertson and Rose Reynolds, as Nick and Honey.

As Nick, Alberston bristles with unsubtle self-assurance, while, as his more demure wife, Reynolds crafts a waif-like creature that is arguably as damaged as the protagonists.

Despite the epic nature of the piece, Michael Emans’ tight direction ensures the action rattles along with never a dull moment.

Don’t miss.

Run ends Saturday