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9th October 2008 by Roger Clarke
Lichfield Garrick Studio
If ever you need to explain the power and magic of theatre then this Garrick Rep production of Edward Albee's classic would be a good place to start.
Some plays just seem to last three hours - this one actually does but you would hardly notice as the time flies while you watch the eloquent, bittersweet desolation of a relationship in a small town college - a love story wrapped in barbed wire.
The despair and disillusion of Matthew Kelly's George grows with the evening while Tracey Childs is truly remarkable as Martha, the sluttish, gin-soaked wife who finds solace in booze and sniping at her husband and their unfulfilled life.
It is a can't live with you, can't live without you relationship where hurting each other and remorse for the hurt come in equal measure - usually in a glass.
He is an associate history professor while Martha is daughter of the college president in a marriage where reality has left ambition a long way behind. Their home life is a constant guerilla attack fuelled by alcohol and broken dreams.
Into their relationship come newcomers Nick (Mark Farrelly), a biology teacher, and his wife Honey (Louise Kempton). Like watching a slow motion train crash the pair are at once fascinated, held like rabbits in headlights. They could leave but choose to stay, finding themselves slowly drawn in to the world according to George and Martha.
Nick, who, strangely, is never referred to by name, tries to play the game and with the naivety of youth, even thinks he has won a few points but he is way out of his depth in the vicious warfare the marriage of George and Martha has become while sweet Honey has her own secret hidden at the bottom of a brandy glass.
The more brandy the more of a bimbo she becomes until, amid the carnage around her, she has to face her own truth.
The intimate atmosphere of the Garrick Studio means the audience are right there in George and Martha's living room, voyeurs, flinching with the cast, feeling the embarrassment.
There are laughs, often nervous as the night wears on, but Andrew Hall's skilled direction is always steering you towards the inevitable moment when the crashing train finally runs out of track and a superb cast do not disappoint.
The first night was excellent but once bedded in this has the potential to be magnificent and one of those productions remembered for years to come.
By Roger Clarke on October 29, 2008
I was up at the Lichfield Garrick again last night to see Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for a second time and it is fascinating to see how the same play, same cast and same script evolve over a one month run.
It is not something you often have a chance to witness in the Midlands where a one week run is the norm apart from panto, which is hardly the same, and, to be honest, there are not that many productions you would want to see again so soon.
The layers of emotion in Edward Albee's classic are peeled away one by one during the performance and a month on from the opening night more layers have been exposed and more shades of dark and light added to the palette. When I reviewed it at the start of the month I predicted an excellent production had all the potential to become a play that would be remembered for years to come - just now and again I am right. Like fine wine the play has matured over its time in Lichfield.
Thursday 16 October by Mark Shipp
Much has been made of Matthew Kelly's return to the stage in Edward Albee's play. The former You Bet!, Stars In Their Eyes and Game For A Laugh host won an Olivier award for his portrayal of Lenny in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men - and takes a triumphant role here. However, he's not the only one. All four of the cast - Tracey Childs as long-suffering wife Martha and Mark Farrelly and Louise Kempton as guests Nick and Honey - deserve enormous credit for a play that is funny, dark, scary and emotive all in one. The play kicked off the Garrick's sixth Rep season. Producer Tom Roberts said Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was their most ambitious project yet as the play is rarely granted a regional licence. It was a gamble that has paid off. The play, directed by former Butterflies star Andrew Hall, is split into three acts. All four cast members bounce off each other superbly and to sum it up in one word it would be must-see. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? runs at the Garrick Theatre, in Castle Dyke until Saturday, November 1.
By Mark Andrews
Olivier award-winning actor Matthew Kelly stars in the social satire Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Lichfield Garrick.
Kelly, who also presented the television shows Game for a Laugh and Stars in Their Eyes, is joined by former Howard's Way star Tracey Childs and Sheffield-born actor Mark Farrelly in the Garrick Rep Company's production of Edward Albee's classic play.
Kelly and Childs, who played Lynne Howard in the popular 1980s television drama series, take the lead roles as bickering couple George and Martha.
An undoubted masterpiece and one of the most influential plays of the 20th century, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? premiered in New York in 1963, winning that year's Tony Award for Best Play, the 1962-63 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play.
George is a violent college professor, and Martha the daughter of the college president.
During the course of one darkly hilarious evening, the brandy comes out and the gloves come off as this riveting couple take Nick and Homey, their unsuspecting young guests, through the party that nightmares are made of.
It initially seems like a relatively simple play with only four parts, but given both the dark subject matter and the challenge to the actors, it's anything but. Late night pleasantries and fun and games turn into something very different, and before the night is over there are brutal revelations for all.
The production runs at the Garrick from now until November 1, with performances at 7.30 every night apart from October 12, 13, 20, 26 and 27. There will also be matinees at 2.30 tomorrow, Thursday next week, October 18, 23, 25, and 30, as well as on November 1. Tickets are priced at £15, with a £3 discount for students.
Lyn Gardner, Saturday October 18 2008
In a bit of a coup for the Garrick, Olivier award-winning actor Matthew Kelly has been bagged to play George, the disappointed professor at war with his wife Martha, in a revival of Edward Albee's 1962 play, one of the great classics of postwar American theatre. Owing a great deal to Strindberg in its portrait of the corrosive effect of drink, disappointment and a lack of respect on a marriage, it's not pretty to watch, but there is plenty of truth-telling as George and Martha slug it out in front of new appointee, Nick, and his wife Honey. A great production which pulls no punches, this is genuinely vicious comedy.
23rd October 2008
The Garrick's Studio's currently my favourite acting space. Closely intimate, it still lets performers explore grand seeps of emotion to bring drama to real, breathing life.
It's perfect for this glamorous show which has the hot blood of humanity running swiftly through its veins, its immediacy further enhanced as Jude Hanly's set casually invades the auditorium to drag us neatly into the plot.
I have seen this play performed with such venom it was incomprehensible. Director Andrew Hall avoids this trap to reveal the dialogue as a series of cries from the heart, a bitterness we can empathise with suffered by sensitive intelligent people pounded by life. This brings the bonus that by the end we can hope gaining some hard-won self-knowledge will allow these wounded people to move on.
Matthew Kelly's towering performance is ultimately sympathetic, showing George as a damaged cynic rather than mere monster. For the same reason we can forgive his wife Martha (the magnificently voluptuous Tracey Childs) her infidelities and drink.
Like unhappy children they hit out at each other, hurting themselves still more in the process. Mark Farrelly's performance as junior lecturer Nick is jaw-droppingly intelligent, his cocksure false deference slipping quite naturally to the spiteful level of his hosts.
But for me the real revelation in even this sophisticated cast is newcomer Louise Kempton. Her lightly sketched-in child-bride metamorphoses seamlessly from apparent foolishness into a self-blindness and denial already light-years ahead of her elders.
This is a master-class in acting at national level in a world-class play. The production runs until Saturday 1st November.
The Garrick's ambition rep company has pulled off a mighty coup, not only by attracting top-notch performers for its latest season, but in winning the rights to perform this bittersweet drama in the first place.
In order to obtain permission to present Edward Albee's first and best-known play, artistic director Adrian Jackson and his team had to track down the author himself. And anyone lucky enough to acquire one of the 140 seats during this run in the Garrick's cosy studio theatre will be glad Albee gave his blessing.
While this production, with its household name stars, would surely fair well in any major theatre, the studio setting gives it an added intimacy. So we find ourselves virtually sitting in George and Martha's living room, audience members visibly wincing, laughing, cringing and shuffling uncomfortably as the warring pair bait each other for three hours or so.
Matthew Kelly and Tracey Childs give towering performances as the tortured pair, maintaining an air of tension, and their American accents, from start to finish. Pulled into their bizarre lives for one long, game-playing, booze-sodden evening are their new ‘friends' Nick and Honey. Again, the casting here is spot on, with superb performances from Mark Farrelly and Louise Kempton, the latter making brilliant use of body language, that might have been lost in a larger setting, to convey much of her feeling.
After this marathon session, which includes two intervals, you come out feeling as bruised and battered as George and Martha's self-esteems.