Keeping the Woolf from the bore

No other theatre production has moved me closer to tears than Friday night’s performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the PlayHouse in Brisbane’s Performing Arts Complex.

And to paraphrase a Groucho Marx line: “And that was before the curtain went up.”

That was when the missus and I read the notice, after entering the theatre at around 7.20pm, that the performance beginning 10 minutes later would run for three hours and 15 minutes, have two intervals and would not finish until well after 11pm.

I’m not saying I was sobbing openly by this stage but maybe close to it, okay.

Late nights can be very stressful for two old fogies. There was that constant, nagging fear of the four actors having to stop mid scene during Act 2 while an usher scurried along row 1 accessed off door 12 to stop us snoring. With the audience – well, those still awake – sniggering and applauding as we were escorted out.

Luckily two things saved us on Friday night. We tacitly agreed to prod each other whenever signs or sounds of sleep appeared. And there’s a lot of shouting in WAOVW? which helps.

Can I be frank? Despite our combined age that goes two-thirds of the way back to the First Fleet, isn’t theatre draining? It expects so much of your attention over such long periods of time. Even more so with two intervals!

Theatre productions are often longer than most movies which at the very least have hot sex scenes, SFX, car chases and shoot ’em outs to keep you awake.

Example? Take the 1966 film of this so-called Edward Albee masterpiece.
The missus and I are not even sure we’ve seen it seeing 1966 was a long time ago. We might have taken it in last week and we still wouldn’t be sure we’ve seen it.

It was only two hours and 11 minutes long, and the credits at the end would have taken up some of that.

I’m not saying the cast on Friday night didn’t give their all. They were great. But I’m sure even Jimi Barri (George), Susan Prior (Martha) Rashidi Edward (Nick) and Juanita Navas-Nguyen would readily accept that they’re not – at this stage of their careers anyway – Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis.

At least in the film you get lovely closeups of Taylor being drunk and mean. Our seats were good but we were still far enough back that the actors could have been poking faces at their friends in the front row and we would have been none the wiser.

Maybe the problem, apart from its bum-numbing length – is WAOVW? itself. It’s an almost endless machinegun burst of rapid dialogue as two pissed couples rip into each other.

Maybe WAOVW?‘s time has come and gone? Perhaps Edward Albee’s career was considered controversial, because much of his work was shit?

Maybe director Margaret Harvey’s attempt to modernise the play lost some of the gravitas of the original set behind the ivy-covered walls of a jaded, washed-up associated professor of English’s on-college campus home in post-war United States.

Maybe our acting quartet delivered some of Albee’s best barbs a little too quickly?

Then, again, that might have been a blessing for – if they hadn’t done so – there’d then be a good chance we’d still be in there.

Don Gordon-Brown