Et Al Theatre group have never shied from the difficult, demanding classics of a modern theatre repertory. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? comes hot on the heels of acclaimed productions of Pinter as well as original material by the group's founders Sariel Heseltine and Renwick McAslan. Co-directed by Heseltine and McAslan it has many strengths and only a few easily forgivable passing glitches. These were eagerly overlooked out by the rapt crowd of Edinburgh students who turned out for this fearless depiction of Edward Albee's seminal work.
Few directors would choose to fiddle with the implicit domesticity of this midnight-black comedy of relationships, sufferance and madness. Set in 1950s New England at a post-party drinking session, a night of drunken, deranged mind-games commence. Albee's script is sublime; each of the four characters a gift of grandiosity embedded in its pained naturalism. Therefore, there's an uneasy false start in the video-diary confessional introductions of our four leads, cut together reality TV-style and projected on the living room wall. Thankfully this is over fairly quickly.
First on stage are the older of the two couples, George (Charles Laurie) and Martha (Daisy Page). The former is the cynical, verbose, arrogant games-master of the evening; the latter his wife, the passionate, seductive yet washed-up hostess. Page's Martha was perfectly measured and expertly delivered; every bit the drawling, teasing and spoilt middle-aged girl. Laurie as George gave an enthrallingly brash, witty and eccentric performance, portraying a sparklingly unlikable lead. Although his slightly forceful disposition wore a little thin over the three-hour period, and could have done with a little more subtlety and variation, he nevertheless carried the performance with a thrilling insistence.
The younger couple, beset by their own grievances, were well-cast and acted with a welcome range and clarity. Nick (Oli Short) seemed brilliantly effortless as the golden boy intellectual hunk, holding things together while his naïve and vulnerable young wife loses it. Honey (Olivia Okell) certainly does lose it; slowly growing drunker, exposing her pain and making her descent and eventual explosion ever more powerful. Well-drawn and hauntingly paced, her performance stole the show. Standing ovations followed the speeches and curtain calls. Indeed, this was an extraordinary performance from such a young company, who despite several easily forgettable hiccups prove ambitious, talented and full of promise.