#SheReviews Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

February 21, 2022

Edward Albee’s masterpiece Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? is the first play of Queensland Theatre’s 2022 season. First seen in 1962, it is one of the most famous plays of the 20th century, which was also made into a Hollywood movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Showing at The Playhouse, this much anticipated story has been touring Australia. First Nations director Margaret Harvey has re – imagined this American classic for an Australia on the brink of change. She Society were delighted to be invited along to Opening Night.

The Story

Nothing good happens after 3am. Middle – aged  married couple, George and Martha, stumble home from a booze filled faculty party. It was hosted by Martha’s father, who also happens to be George’s boss. Instead of going to bed and sleeping it off, Martha has invited guests in the form of young and impressionable couple, newly minted professor, Nick and his wife, Honey. George hopes they won’t arrive. Whilst waiting the couple keep on drinking. Soon the arguments begin. 

From the get go, the situation is brutal with Martha and George bickering incessantly, each trying to wound more deeply with ever more acidic barbs. When Honey and Nick arrive they are brought into the fray and find themselves part of a cruel sparring match with a hidden agenda. In the wee hours, with Honey soon passed out from too much booze, the gathering becomes a frenzy of savage insults, spiteful mind games and wicked humiliations. 

By the time the sun rises, everyone’s deepest secrets will be laid bare, and none of them will ever be the same again.

The Cast 

Jimi Bani is brilliantly cast as George. He plays the role with empathy, humour and a hint of hidden cruelty. I have been watching Jimi’s diverse career since I first saw him in My Name is Jimi and his range and confidence as an actor just keeps getting better. Susan Prior (Puberty Blues) plays Martha with a brash confidence and a braying laugh. She ensures she is the centre of attention in every scene and will have you cringing as she beats down the underachieving George. 

Rashidi Edward as Nick is suitably humble and polite at first, but as the alcohol kicks in his resentments appear. It is in the scenes where he shows a tightly coiled rage where he is most powerful. He develops this character extremely well as the play progresses through shades of light and dark. Juanita Navas – Nguyen plays her role with a sense of wonder and innocence. She has perhaps one of the most powerful lines in the piece. 

This was a very deliberate casting by Margaret Harvey. Colour consciousness was at the forefront of Margaret’s mind when she was breathing new life into this classic story. It brings an even more sinister element to the words and with the cast using their own Australian accents, it centres the characters in an Australia at a crossroads. It brings to the fore conversations on class, race, feminism, love, history and power.  

The Set

I loved the pared back set with a simple chalkboard with the name of  the play as a backdrop. It hints at the teaching background of both men. The pure white stage, with only an objet d’art as a centrepiece, ensured all eyes were on the drama unfolding. Glass walls were peeled back until stripped bare, much as the many layered characters unfolded. The moat added to the drama and soothed as needed. The lighting was subtle and served to illuminate more as the play progressed. It mirrored the illumination of the deep depths of each character. 

This is a long play – three hours and fifteen minutes with two intervals – but we never lost interest in the human story unfolding before us. It was handled deftly and hinged on the wonderful characterisations and explosive dialogue. No-one knows what any relationship hinges upon and to so deftly unravel these machinations without dishonesty or avarice was breathtaking to watch. 

I was at times scared of what was about to unfold and wanted to tell everyone to just stop drinking and go to bed. There was truth, but also love, and although you’d think the subject matter would not be funny, there were many moments where the audience laughed out loud. This play and its themes will be haunting you long after you leave the theatre and asking you to recognise your own fears and truth. 

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? is playing now until February 26 at QPAC. If you think you know this classic story, think again. In this portrait of a marriage in crisis you will be confronted with topics that are still so relevant to society today. This play asks, “ Are you afraid of the truth? “