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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Harold Pinter Theatre

Celebrity Deathmatch: Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? pits Lord Varys against Dolores Umbridge

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is Edward Albee’s 1962 chamber piece about a quarrelling middle aged couple gained notoriety with the casting of tumultuous middle aged couple Burton and Taylor. A realist step too far. Having seen the film adaptation, I approached this new adaptation with some trepidation. For a play where not very much happens, it is long. With an interval between Act 1 & 2 and a ‘short pause’ between Act 2 & 3 it is worlds apart from the nice, 80 min, no-interval plays that are de rigour these days. I can hold my bladder for more than 80 mins, but as soon as that usher mentions ‘No Interval, No readmittance’.. my heart and pelvic floor drop. So the idea of a play with not one, but two toilets opportunities is more than welcome.

The casting is also on point. Imelda Staunton is probably the most revered grande dames lording over British theatre. For an actress who became so acclaimed in film and television to still work so prolifically in theatre is refreshing, as opposed to a statement role to prove they haven’t forgotten their roots. I am rather a staunch fangirl for Staunton. Having seen her in Gypsy but sadly missing her Sweeney Todd, both at Chichester Festival Theatre, I relished the chance to catch her in a straight drama before her return to Sondheim adaptations with Follies (!) at the NT later in 2017. Conleth Hill too is an exciting prospect. He certainly knows how to deliver a withering put down. Arguably, his banter with Tyrion in Game of Thrones is one of the highlights of that HBO behemoth. Curious Incident’s Luke Treadaway and goto for British kooky Imogen Poots complete the cast.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Edward Albee

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Taking our seats in the compact Harold Pinter theatre, we were barked at to switch off our mobile phones. There was a lot of barking, it was a bit patronising to say the least. As the play begins, we are in a spacious, mid century American lounge. Designer Tom Pye has done a stellar job recreating the period setting. With the current ubiquitous interior design trend for all things 70s, the props looked like they’d come from a John Lewis catalogue. Spacious as the room is, it would prove to be an intimate pressure pot.

I hadn’t seen Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? before this production. I was aware of it, but the Burton-Taylor film and the casting of a real-life bickering couple had really overshadowed what is a masterpiece of a play. George and Martha are a new-England couple: George (Conleth Hill), the underachieving college professor; Martha (Imelda Staunton) the daughter of the college’s Director. George and Martha return drunk from a party and we quickly learn they have more guests to arrive. At the beginning, the warring couple spew bitchy line after bitchy line to comedic effect. Its like a particularly heated episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race.. and the library is definitely open. As the play progresses, what started as funny becomes painful. Their guests, Nick and Honey, are the targets they turn their attention to. It seems like a well rehearsed piece, with Martha making her advances on the younger Nick (played by Luke Treadaway), while the naive Honey is plied with brandy.

The big reveal at the end has maybe lost some of it’s potency. I get the impression that in 1962, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? would’ve been controversial and shocking. The frank exposure of the truth behind the veneer has probably lost some of it’s edge now. ‘Shocking’ plays are ten e penny these day. but Albee’s dialogue is still sharp some 45 years on. I wouldn’t cut a line from it’s 3 hour run time.

Imelda Staunton Martha Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Imelda Staunton’s caustic Mama Rose.. I mean, Martha.

Staunton brings all of her usual stamina and power to Martha. The musical theatre chops she has shown as Mama Rose in Jonathan Church’s excellent Gypsy revival have put her in good stead for this role. Martha shares Rose’s fragility, sexual allure and volume. I half expected Staunton to break out into Rose’s Turn at a few points. It really was a barnstorming, superlative performance – the kind that leaves you a bit shaken. Conleth Hill is equally ferocious. From George’s early subservience to the bolder Martha, his character grows in stature as the plot progresses, through jealousy to nurture. Treadaway brings the right level of smarmy to Nick. Its the least interesting character, but it’s believably acted at least. Imogen Poots completes the quartet. I’ve long been a fan of Poots, from a performance as Sally Bowles in a BBC biopic of Christopher Isherwood. She brings the same wide eyed naivety to Honey and plays silly drunk convincingly, attracting some of the biggest laughs.

Imelda Staunton Martha Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Harold Pinter Theatre

(L-R) Luke Treadaway, Conleth Hill, Imogen Poots and Imelda Staunton

For the most part, James MacDonald’s new production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? keeps it simple, allowing Albee’s play and the actors to do their thing. It works. Albee had billing above the star casting and deservedly so. His play is the star here, but Staunton et al give it a good go. The most telling thing I can say is, I would watch it again – after reading more about the play.

The Harold Pinter seems to offer a good number of well priced seats, to see good plays and high profile actors – if there are seats left, I’d implore anyone to see it if they have the chance. Its open now, running until 27th May. Click here for more info.


Sinners Club at The Other Room Theatre, Cardiff

Leaving London, one of the things I’ve missed the most was the abundance of theatre. There’s no denying that the cultural scene has improved outside of the capital in recent years. The continuing success of Chichester Festival Theatre, the Leicester Curve and Manchester International Festival prove that the provinces DO care about culture. For its relatively small size, Cardiff enjoys a disproportionate amount of culture led by established venues like the Millennium Centre and the Sherman Theatre. What most cities lack are the small fringe venues and theatre pubs that really push the limits. They offer drama outside of the centre, on a smaller scale. For a company like The Other Room to emerge in Cardiff is a promising sign indeed and Sinners Club proved a promising start to the season.

Sinners Club The Other Room

Sinners Club forms part of their Spring Outliers season., a co-production between the Other Room theatre company, Mold’s Theatr Clwyd and Gaggle Babble. Staged in The Other Room’s intimate space in a side room of Porter’s (opposite the Motorpoint). The space is probably the same as one floor of a small 2 Up 2 Down miner’s terrace but can fit up to 44 people. For Sinners Club, there are two rows of seats around the room with gaps for the band. presumably most of the action is to take place in the centre. Intimate is an understatement. Arriving late and slightly flustered thanks to some unexpected traffic, we ended up sat in the front row which would inevitably result in audience participation (initial anxiety was not misplaced). Mark Bailey’s design sees the venue as a recording studio, complete with a recording booth in the corner. The only other adornments are some neon lights and scattered pics of the last woman hanged in Britain, Ruth Ellis.

The play started as the band tuned up. The writer and lead actress of the play Lucy Rivers swaggers into the room in some oversized sunglasses. Without much introduction the music starts. More gig than theatre, Sinners Club bears a tonal resemblance to Rivers’ other work with Gagglebabble. Fictional band, The Bad Mothers are recording a live concept album about the aforementioned Ruth Ellis and the audience has been invited to watch (and participate in) the recording. So far, so meta. Over the 90 minute run time, we get insight into the tragic story of Ruth Ellis through song lyrics and spoken interludes. It’s a fascinating tale. Ellis is a relic of a time gone by, largely forgotten by the public – but at the time was sensationalised by a sexist press like a glammier Aileen Wuornos.

The Bad Mothers are a passable band, the players are more than capable and Lucy Rivers as the singer has a gutsy, bluesy tone to her strong rock voice. Not at all musical theatre, Sinners Club is definitely more gig-theatre. The music itself reminded me of mid-2000s indie favourites Howling Bells’ bluesy-grungey art rock. I’d like to get my hands on a recording of the music as it’s too hard to take in a whole set of new songs on first listen. Standouts were a surreal moment involving a fable about a bird leaving home with an elaborately feathered, Maleficent referencing costume. The other standout was Carolyn, a country infused number complete with cowboy hats and mandolin, – a close relation to that other classic scorned woman country jam Jolene.

Sinners Club The Other Room Theatre Kiera n Cudlip

Rivers herself is obviously very talented – multi instrumentalist, composer, writer and singer. Through the 90 minutes, the lines between Ruth Ellis and her unnamed singer blur as the drama crescendos with Ellis’ inevitable demise. It’s not a light watch, and the rather hard seats (and lack of interval) took meant those 90 minutes took their toll on me physically and mentally. The parallel plotline between the unseen producer and the singer was a bit harder to swallow than the Ruth Ellis story – it just felt a bit unnecessary and clunky. That said, we did go on a preview night and the Cardiff run leads up to another run in Theatr Clwyd so this could be ironed out.

Ultimately, Sinners Club’s intimate gig-theatre was worth seeing for Rivers’ performance alone, but the snapshot of a darker time in British history was a welcome bonus and a timely reminder of the Establishment’s heavy handed justice.

Sinners Club runs at The Other Room at Porter’s until Saturday 18th February, then at Theatr Clwyd, Mold from 2nd to 18th March.

Run Time 90 minutes

Writer Lucy Rivers

Director Titas Halder

Designer Mark Bailey


How do you like your eggs in the morning?

Eggs are the beginning of life. Human beings grow from fertilised eggs. Chickens lay eggs for procreation and its lucky for us that they do – they’re versatile, filling, delicious and nutritious. Its not often you have a food that you can apply all of those adjectives to.

So, eggs – that are the beginning of these strange lives we lead – are also the perfect beginning to the day. I often reminisce about all the wonderful breakfasts I’ve had in my time as well as mourning the disappointing ones. I also take pictures of the best examples for gluttonous posterity. To answer the title question, how do you like your eggs in the morning? – I like them any which way, but usually softly scrambled.

 

Ottolenghi Shakshuka Eggs

The finest, most generous portion of Shakshuka at Ottolenghi.

Above was a part of the most wonderful brunch I had obe sunny Sunday last summer at Ottolenghi Islington. We’d already filled up on toast and spreads but I still managed to push passed the full-barrier to mop the last blob of tomato.

Gizzi Erskine Breakfast Soft Boiled Eggs & Chorizo

Chorizo, Sweet Potato Mayo and a Soft Boiled Egg.. inspired by Gizzi Erskine.

This was inspired by a Gizzi Erskine recipe from Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts. Sweet potato mayo is like the sweet nectar of the Gods. Who’d have thunk? The sweet and slightly sour mayo is a perfect foil for the spicy chorizo, rich egg and the acidity from the tomatoes. Leftover mayo is also great just spread on bread, or just eaten from a spoon. I’m gross like that.

Fried Eggs & Bacon Jam

Bacon Jam stirred through some Baked Beans topped with a Fried Egg.

Dan Doherty is seemingly the don of Brunch. His Duck and Waffle is a great place to get eggs 24 hours a day in London. His latest book Toast Hash Roash Mash is also basically cover to cover brilliant brunch recipes. He had a recipe for Bacon Jam.. which was the first thing I cooked from the book. Imagine a cross between BBQ Sauce and a Conserve, but with bacon. Honestly, it’s incredible. Like the best example of sweet and salty. It turned a rather pedestrian breakfast of baked beans and a fried egg into something I’d pay for in an embarassingly hipster breakfast cafe.

Scrambled Eggs, Sourdough and Black Pudding

Perfect scrambled eggs with black pudding, bacon jam and sourdough toast.

There’s a little bit of Bacon Jam left in the above breakast.. and some overpriced but unbelievable black pudding I bought in Riverside Market along with some sourdough, from Riverside Sourdough.. and some XL eggs – scrambled with a healthy and hearty Irish portion of butter and a dab of creme fraiche for some French sophistcation.

I fucking love eggs. I sometimes fantasise about being a healthy clean eating vegan.. or ‘plant-based diet’ guru. I have cookbooks just about eggs.. and eggs being the start of most life on this planet. It seemed a fitting subject for this first post. Genesis, Chapter One. In the beginning, God probably started off with eggs, cooked any which way.