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I’m not afraid of Virginia Woolf

Written by Arts, Theatre

The prospect of a three-hour play to someone who only bought a theatre society membership to get the Hancock discount card is an ominous one. The added knowledge that the entire cast comprised just four people and thus I should expect something of a monologue onslaught only served to dampen my zeal further and, frankly, had some of my close friends not made up fifty per cent of the aforementioned four characters, would I have gone to see it? Probably (definitely) not.

As someone whose theatrical enthusiasm does not regularly – or ever – extend past high-budget West End musicals, where I’m utterly enamoured by the glittering sets and a belting score, plays of more literary acclaim scare me somewhat. I did also have the overwhelming feeling of having shot myself in the foot for not having at least scanned a synopsis of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf prior to stepping into Northern Stage.

I have never been so pleasantly surprised. It can be difficult when you actually know the play’s protagonists to extricate them from the personality you know them to have in real life, but I have to say the acting was compelling to the point that I could barely recognise them as the people I know them to be. Simultaneously humorous, witty, dark and emotionally charged, I sat enraptured across the three fifty-minute acts and only had to ask a handful of questions at the end concerning some of the more obscure symbolism.

I have to say the acting was compelling to the point that I could barely recognise them as the people I know them to be

Maintaining a believable American accent is incredibly impressive given the sheer quantity of lines the cast had to memorise – the majority of whom are in their final year. Just the thought of learning all those lines put me off my dissertation, so hats off to the cast’s time management skills. Furthermore, even in some of the heaviest scenes – covering human afflictions from alcoholism to abortion – their characters did not falter, and as ever, I must commend those who are able to cry on demand.

The actual set adhered to the high quality of the acting, the imperious clips of John F. Kennedy relaying information of the Cold War were effective in elucidating the tumultuous times in which the play was set, and which were mirrored in the embittered mind games between the characters. Original paintings by first year Fine Art student Frances Darwin also gave the actors a run for their money for star of the show.

Don’t get me wrong. This glowing review is not the result of my knowing half the cast – truly no part of me was excited about going to see this play. It was genuine shock at how much I enjoyed it that incited me to write this review, and just goes to show, never judge a play by its cover – or three-hour running time.

Last modified: 21st April 2020

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