Sunday, March 19, 2006

Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Saw this last night, which was a treat for Mum for her birthday.

I don't normally like theatre - I find it too contrived and unrealistic. At least with telly, somehow you can do whatever you want as it's not in real time for the viewer.

Perhaps the reason for this is I initially saw excellent theatre - one of the first things I saw was 'The Woman in Black' in its first showing on a school trip in 1988 - it was on in Birmingham or somewhere. It was absolutely brilliant and has meant that anything I have seen since has had to live up to this.

Anyway, this is a brilliant play. It's the writing that's outstanding, but I also loved the set and costume, the acting - well that was good too. I thought that with such a well written play, the acting couldn't really go wrong.

It's basically a story of a middle aged history academic (George) in what seems to be a poor marriage - destructive and degenerating with a heavy drinking wife (Martha), they invite a young biology fellow and his new wife round for drinks and have a few drug fuelled debates and a late night, where George ends up telling MArtha their 21 year old son has died.

But for me, in addition to the good laughs you have when they're having their rows, the play is tackling very bid topics.

There is a massive amount of symbolism, which to be honest is what floats my boat. George and Martha were the names of the first president of the United states and his wife for a start; the play is questioning existence itself. There are 3 acts to the play.

George symbolised History to me. The young biology teacher symbolised Science, and his young wife symbolised the Church (her father was a Bishop or something). I couldn’t decipher what Martha represented, but then we were told at the start of the third act – she represented Mother Earth.

What was so powerful about the play was how set in the ‘now’ of 1962 it was; I was very impressed with myself for spotting this. Even before looking at the programme I had written down ‘1962 set?’. The set and costume were so accurate apart from anything else and there were a couple of references to the war being about twenty years ago. The house was immaculate, academic American, but also very homely. Even the colours of the set had an impact – lovely warm browns making one feel very nostalgic for the now. Only Honey (representing the Church to me) was yellow in contrast. Then by the third Act, blue was introduced, in Martha’s top and a blue shadow cast from an open door.

George’s speeches constantly referred to ‘historical inevitability’, which chimes so well now and also reminds me of Castro’s speeches around then; ‘History will absolve me’ and the start of the Cold War.

Mother Earth, was older than History – Science and the Church come along together, then the Church gets sick, Science couples with Mother Earth. Then History tells Mother Earth her son, Humanity presumably, is dead. But at the end, you don’t know if this Death is real or an illusion. Then it’s just Mother Earth and History together again.

One criticism is that the play could have more music, the sound was also bad – Mum could hardly hear it and the sounds could have created improved ambience for the audience.

Should Mother Earth listen to History?

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