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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Dundee Rep review

Published in The Guardian © Mark Fisher

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

4 out of 5

Designer Philip Whitcomb places Edward Albee's compellingly ghastly drama in the centre of a wasteland. All around the book-lined New England residence of George and Martha lie mountains of black rubble, littered with discarded liquor bottles beneath a cloudy night sky.

This post-apocalyptic vision is a metaphor for a dysfunctional marriage. But more than that, it locates this 1962 play in the era of the cold war. George and Martha are superpowers, forever squaring up to each other, stockpiling their emotional armouries and playing lethal games of brinkmanship. They save themselves only through the threat of mutually assured destruction. Their younger house guests, Honey and Nick, are the token figures to be fought over, bullied and discarded.

The cold-war mentality extends to the despair at the heart of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Like the atomic-bomb generation, these are characters with a profound fear of the future, their childlessness symbolising an inability to move forward. With no prospect of hope, their only option is to turn on each other.

Those sentiments resonate in our own doom-laden era, but this wouldn't be a great play if it didn't transcend its roots. Happily, James Brining's superb production shows it at its best. With a sure-handed sensitivity to the ebb and flow of comedy and vitriol, he makes us savour every minute of a long, brutal night.

With her Elizabeth Taylor hairdo, Irene MacDougall is on masterly form as Martha, switching from sexy to lascivious, charming to ferocious, fearful to vicious so frequently that she is impossible to pin down. In brown cardigan and spectacles, Robert Paterson is similarly mercurial, his fusty demeanour making his violence seem all the more warped. But their fireworks fail to obscure the subtle performances of Gemma McElhinney and Alan Burgon as they make the journey from repression to release.

© Mark Fisher, 2009

1 comment:

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