“Courageous and spirited performance”
There are drinks before a party and there are drinks after a party. The LADbible, a new source for Edinburgh49, lists ‘17 Things That Always Happen During Pre-Drinks’; but what about Post-Drinks? The lads should go back to George and Martha’s place and learn how Mom and Dad get down at two in the morning on a Saturday night. And then some. Don’t play these party games at home, boys and girls.
Edward Albee’s 1962 play is a lacerating shocker of a marriage on the rocks. Martha is 52, is really high-maintenance and has a nice line in mixing ice-cubes and tears. George is 46 and – to quote his wife – doesn’t “do anything; you never mix. You just sit around and talk”, which explains the two chesterfield sofas on stage but under-estimates by a long, long shot George’s mocking and mordant words. Total war is not declared until halfway through the second act but the skirmishing is unrelenting and bloody. When they are not ripping into each other they practice on their late night guests, Nick (30) and Honey (26), whom they have just met.
We’re in a small university town in New England where George hasn’t made professor in the History faculty, despite marrying the college President’s daughter, and Nick – fresh in from Kansas, blond and bright – has just joined the Biology Department.
It’s like Albee is swirling his first couple in a highball glass (and note the cheeky correspondence between George and Martha Washington …). Actors Henry Conklin and Caroline Elms give a performance of such fortified intensity that you wonder how they’ll recover. Conklin is the measured, oiled one, his level delivery only once or twice spilling into fury. Elms is more intemperate, emotionally more profligate, but still vulnerable. Albee would have her past her prime, which is tricky at the undergraduate stage, but then George is supposed to be thin and going grey. Neither performer worries about that and they give each other such a goddam kicking that not for one second did I doubt the wasted nature of their twenty-three years of marriage. Tender proof positive is provided by their exhausted, mutual dependence at the end.
George calls Nick and Honey ‘children’ and they are: not so much innocent as defenceless. Jodie Mitchell plays Honey as – frankly – clueless and squiffy and there’s an honesty to it that is very appealing. Macleod Stephen has the harder part, trying to stand against George, to withstand Martha (he flops) and manage several whisky sodas. Nick’s sudden understanding of the acute sadness that slashes through the whole action is important but was almost blindsided.
Director Pedro Leandro should be delighted with courageous and spirited performance. It is a long play but the tension held and what might have turned mannered and flat did not. The sofas, stage left, could have been more in the centre and I did miss Martha banging against the door chimes (my bad, I reckon) which needs to be seen to make sense of George’s ruthless masterplan to wipe her out.
Simon and Garfunkel’s The Dangling Conversation opens up the second act and is a pitch perfect choice. Remember the line, “Is the theatre really dead?” Well, it ain’t.
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 13 October)
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