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Blood Sports in the Living Room

L-R: Rayner Wilson (Martha), Jack Sargent (Nick), Sophie Wood (Honey). Photo credit Martin Pulley.

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf, Rugby Theatre from Saturday 9 March – Saturday 16 March 2024.

Review by Heidi Barber

The 1966 film version of this stage play written by Edward Albee, starred Elizabeth Taylor as Martha, Richard Burton as George and won 5 Oscars with Elizabeth Taylor winning her second Oscar for best actress. I was looking forward to finding out the story behind such an iconic film which I have never actually seen. As it happens, I was not disappointed.

The plot revolves around a highly educated, comfortably middle-class couple, George (Nigel Westlake) and Martha (Rayner Wilson). They have lived for many years in a small cottage in the grounds of the University where Martha’s father is president.

L-R: Rayner Wilson (Martha), Nigel Westlank (George), Jack Sargent (Nick). Photo credit Martin Pulley.

 One evening, following yet another of the University parties for staff and their partners, George and Martha invite a younger couple – new biology professor Nick (Jack Sargent) and his wife Honey (Sophie Wood) – over for late-night drinks. What follows is a series of harrowing, humorous and distressing exchanges.

 It is difficult to imagine the underlying psychological events which may have led to the behaviours demonstrated by the two lead characters in this play and as observers, we fluctuate between disdain, shock, laughter and sympathy to name but a few of the emotions experienced whilst watching the numerous exchanges between the husband, wife and their guests for the evening.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf - an elecrifying performance. Photo credit Martin Pulley.

Rayner captures the formidable and chaotic nature of Martha’s character wonderfully whilst Nigel perfectly demonstrates the softly spoken and thoughtful aspects of George’s personality. Their blistering and acerbic exchanges are delivered with precision timing and create the mood for the play.

The performance in a small theatre adds to the electrifying nature of the play and at times I felt as though the harsh remarks were directed at me. The simple set works well creating an intimate atmosphere of the couple’s lounge where the entire play is performed.

The cast of Rugby Theatre's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Photo credit Martin Pulley.

 It must be both daunting and daring for amateur companies to take on such iconic plays, but director Malcolm Fawcett’s production of this classic did not disappoint.


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