The veteran English director Anthony Page seems to be in the process of creating the theatrical equivalent of Mount Rushmore on Shaftesbury Avenue. Already running at the Lyric, there's his fine account of Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana, starring Woody Harrelson. This has now been joined, next door at the Apollo, by the London transfer of his superb Broadway production of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, starring Kathleen Turner. All we need is an Arthur Miller drama at the Queen's and a Eugene O'Neill epic at the Gielgud to complete the full presidential quartet.
Virginia Woolf is, of course, Albee's "long night's journey into day". This booze-fuelled marital slug-fest on a New England campus harks back to Strindberg and Coward in its savagely comic take on love-hate co-dependency and on the coded, blithely conscienceless war games that bamboozle and blister the scandalised, dullard civilians who are forced into participation. The play also spawned so many pale, guts-out-on-the-table-in-the-small-hours imitations that there's a danger of our taking Albee's pitilessly articulate and perceptive masterpiece for granted.
In Page's deeply satisfying revival, it's the chemistry of the casting that ensures that this Woolf has freshly sharpened, murderous fangs. Nothing could be further from the brawling gelded bruiser seen in Richard Burton's film performance than Bill Irwin's almost daintily deadly George, the stalled associate history professor and boss's son-in-law. Turner's magnificent Martha, a blowsy, campily knowing Earth-Mother-cum-man-eater, certainly seems to wear the trousers in this relationship. But the production sharply underlines how the ultimate power lies with her spouse.
Playing their horrified guests, David Harbour brings out all the stolid, smug censoriousness of the new biology don, and Mireille Enos is a disarmingly grotesque caricature of the embarrassing things that can happen when repressed little wifey gets pissed. Turner caused a disproportionate stir with a brief snatch of obscurely lit nudity in the stage version of The Graduate. Here, fully and frumpily clad but, by the end, stripped of all illusion, she is not so much emotionally naked as flayed.
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