‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ // Ad Astra

‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ was charged.

Humiliate the host or hump the hostess? ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ provided both in spades, which made for an interesting, and entertaining, night out. Audiences were somewhat squished into Ad Astra’s theatre but the tight space was quickly forgotten when the captivatingly twisted couple, Martha and George came home for a drink…or 20. Those 20 drinks were doubled when young couple Nick and Honey joined the gathering. The four brilliantly complex characters proceeded to drink the night away, divulging secrets, shedding tears and taking their audience on an emotionally charged journey.

It is a test of concentration for any theatregoer to sit in a chair for three hours. In a world where we are used to speedy plot lines, extravagant set and fast entertainment ripe for our consumption, ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ gave Brisbane audiences a chance to stop, consider and really get to know the characters on stage. Playwright Edward Albee is a master of language and was able to construct a script that allowed audiences to connect and settle into a narrative that increased in complexity as the night progressed. Ad Astra’s take on this classic play certainly did Albee’s masterful work justice. The stellar cast embodied each character, creating a cacophony of human emotion and complexity that was a credit to their skill as individuals and a cast.

The set was simple, with two couches, an armchair, fire pit and bar, which received more than its fair share of attention throughout the production. Movement flowed naturally throughout the living room and there was little consideration for ‘letting the audience into the action’. If a character felt like it was natural for their backs to be turned to the audience to deliver a section of dialogue, then that’s what they did.

The audience existed as the fourth wall and their presence was not considered. While this was occasionally frustrating as an audience member it also meant that moments felt natural. No one stands at a 45-degree angle while they are having a raging argument and director Jacqueline Kerr did a fantastic job of ensuring every movement and blocking choice was natural and motivated, even if it meant a few backs were seen in the process.

Casting for this production was spot on! Every single person on stage lived through their character and delivered performances that gave life to the words on the page. Gene Banyard was particularly exceptional in his portrayal of George. When the subject matter is especially emotional it is easy to get ‘shouty’ and to overact. While Banyard did shout, his performance was measured and it was his moments of intense and controlled rage that made his outbursts even more impactful.

Fiona Kennedy as Martha was the character you loved to hate. While Martha was a bit too much to handle at the beginning of the play, audiences were able to settle into her exuberance as they slowly began to understand the nuance within the character. Kennedy handled a complex character with great skill and clarity. Her emotional moments were genuine and juxtaposed her cruel yet flirty nature.

Pierce Gordon as the unwitting biologist Nick allowed the audience to be lured in by his charm and simultaneously pushed away by his diverging morals and quick temper. Caitlyn Leo was endearing in her portrayal of Honey and, while the character did not speak quite as much as others on stage, Leo’s consistent characterisation didn’t go unnoticed. The talented actress was always switched on and responsive to the action around her.

As tensions rose and fell throughout the evening, the small cast had the audience in the palm of their hand. While the narrative was engaging, it was the commitment from those on stage that trapped the audience’s attention and held it for three hours. ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ is no easy play to tackle and the team at Ad Astra did a commendable job of bringing this classic to a Brisbane Audience.

‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ plays until June 1 2019. For more information on Ad Astra’s upcoming season visit their website at https://www.adastracreativity.com/.

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