TITLE: Huddersfield Thespians Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

VENUE: Lawrence Batley Theatre

REVIEW: William Marshall

EDWARD Albee’s war of words is a landmark play of the last century and this is an excellent opportunity to experience its emotional intensity and verbal cruelties.

An older and a younger couple at an American university campus take part in an orgy of provocation and revelation, while consuming enough booze to put you off liquor for life.

The production is made all the more intense because it takes place in the LBT’s cellar, with its low ceiling and the actors cheek-by-jowl with the audience.

The play – directed by Keith Royston – is done with the audience seated on opposing sides of the “stage”, which is a neat and effective use of the space.

And there is drama behind the production. When the actor due to play provoker-in-chief George fell ill, director Royston took over at short notice.

This is a lengthy dialogue and monologue-heavy play, so he acted with a discreet script in hand, as the audience was informed beforehand.

But although the actor-director was consulting his script for most of the time, it was remarkable how unobtrusive this was.

And although Keith Royston might not have been first choice casting – in appearance a little too old for the part – he certainly brings out all the sound and fury of George, his sudden raging crescendos and passages of sustained mockery, plus occasional vulnerabilities.

For the other three actors, the play is a feat of memorisation at which they acquitted themselves very well.

More importantly, they realised the complexities of their characters.

Charlotte Cooper spends most of her time tipsy and ditzy as Honey, but husband Nick is more complex – ranging from an ambitious but respectful young idealist to a swaying drunk capable of just as much casual cruelty as his hosts. He is played by Dean Robson, with the mounting skill he has displayed in several recent productions.

Christine Davies plays Martha, an equally complex counterpart to her husband George. She displays all the verbal sadism and predatory sexual qualities that the character demands, until the final revelations expose the emotional wounds that have damaged this very odd couple. There is something monstrous in George and Martha, but their complexities find echoes in all of us.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Continues until Saturday, when there is also a matinee.