Butterfly Theatre
Holden Street Theatres
Until 26 Jan 2020

Review by Helen Karakulak

Butterfly Theatre’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is a convoluted yet insightful exploration of domesticity. It engrosses audiences into the frustration and intensity of an environment so destructive that the only joy that remains is in twisted lies and troublesome games.

Edward Albee’s classic provides a script as complex as its themes. Albee’s wordiness presents a challenge for performers to engage audiences without making his unlikeable characters sound irritably pretentious and the ensemble did well in delivering the dialogue with gravitas, making each wit-laced line an enjoyable surprise to break the tension.

Brant Eustice is a commanding George and does well to maintain the pace of the production in a role that tempts consistent volume and arrogance. Rather, Eustice was convincingly brooding in George’s dissatisfaction with his relationship, with spurts of frenzied action that seemed warranted due to its development.

While there is a distinct lack of chemistry between Bronwyn Ruciak’s Martha and Eustice’s George, this lent itself nicely to the distance between their characters and the tension in their relationship and did not detract from the performance.

Madeleine Herd is delightful as Honey, with a refreshing innocence and youthful quality to her performance. Herd’s Honey is a satisfying juxtaposition to Ruciak’s bitter and shrill Martha.

Robert Bell’s convincing characterisation as the deteriorating Nick seems effortless. Nick’s decline from confidence to being rendered inferior by George and Martha’s games is evident with each stride he takes, particularly in the third act. Bell’s performance gives audience’s a character to sympathise with, making the production better digestible despite its length.

Angela Short’s set is simplistic and fitting, with broken records being a particularly nice touch to emphasise the destructive nature of the events taking place.

Directors Angela Short and Matthew Chapman’s choice to craft their set as a boxing ring and incorporate on stage seating, while theoretically fitting to the source material, struggles to satisfy in practice. While in some ways, being seated ringside gives you an up-close view of the action, the blocking of the performance doesn’t lend itself well to seating at every angle.
Much of what this production brings to audiences is in the expression of its performers, and there are too frequent times when large parts of the audience are unable to see, let alone appreciate, the full physicality of its ensemble.

With an enthusiastic cast, Butterfly Theatre’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” allows members of the ensemble to shine individually but leaves much to be desired in terms of cohesion. At an approximate three hours, sheer length and the convoluted nature of the themes presented struggles to maintain the level of immersion desired for such a production. However, there were enough stand-out moments from a hardworking cast and bursts of action that brought life to Albee’s source material in a well-intended, entertaining way.