Remember Master Class, Terence McNally's pretentious sham of a play about Maria Callas which shared her initials but nothing else? When I tell you that it won the 1996 Tony award for Best Play you'll realise that something is rotten in the state of Broadway.
These days, Broadway's best writing is either by past greats or David Hare. The shining example of recent years was Lincoln Center's A Delicate Balance.
Edward Albee's 1966 play is less of an emotional rollercoaster than his previous world-wide smash Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but the writing is leaner and the moral dilemmas more unsettling. The revival cast was headed by Rosemary Harris but Elaine Stritch's bravura performance as the unreformed alcoholic stole the show. Her shockingly truthful handling of character and whiplash comic timing was the highlight of the entire Broadway season. It also served to remind everyone of Albee's sharp comic humour, a skill which surfaced in his early absurdist comedy The American Dream.
No matter what he claims, until his comeback a handful of years ago, Albee had been in the theatrical wilderness for a while. His early plays like A Zoo Story were regularly performed in student productions, but later works like Tiny Alice or All Over - performed by the RSC with the likes of Peggy Ashcroft - didn't keep him up on many people's list of New York's finest. Indeed, it took him two years to bring Three Tall Women to off-Broadway after directing the premiere two years earlier in Vienna. Happily, that went on to win him his third Pulitzer prize.
Anthony Page directed the London production and guided Maggie Smith to one of her finest performances. She now rejoins Page and Albee to play Stritch's role in A Delicate Balance with a mouthwatering cast. Sian Thomas has the double-edged honour of playing the most difficult role, that of the emotional wreck of a daughter, but she's aided and abetted by John Standing as her father. Coincidentally, he played Elyot to Maggie Smith's Amanda in Private Lives in the 1970s. And who gets to play her mother, the redoubtable Agnes, she who must be obeyed? Eileen Atkins (above), who returns to acting after writing the screenplay of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway for Vanessa Redgrave. Dear me, how incestuous can you get?
Theatre Royal Haymarket, London SW1 (0171-930 8800) in preview, opens 21 OctoberReuse content