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Clulow, C. (2017). Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, by Edward Albee, directed by James Macdonald, A National Theatre Live production, May 2017. Cpl. Fam. Psychoanal., 7(2):237-239.

(2017). Couple and Family Psychoanalysis, 7(2):237-239

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, by Edward Albee, directed by James Macdonald, A National Theatre Live production, May 2017

Review by:
Christopher Clulow, Ph.D.

The National Theatre’s revival of Albee’s excoriating marital drama, written in 1962 and performed most notably on film by the real life couple of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, played to full houses and five star reviews in the late Spring of 2017, demonstrating the undiminished relevance of the consequences in private and public relationships of merging truth and illusion—the central preoccupation of the play. No doubt the timing of the production was influenced by the death of Albee last Autumn, but given the real life political dramas that continue to be played out over “spin” and “alternative facts” there is an uncanny political timeliness to this revival, and one that allows the play to be read as social commentary, not just as the anatomy of a high conflict marriage stripped down to its marrow.

The drama plays out in real time in the early hours of the morning following a faculty party hosted by Martha’s father, principal of the university. Martha’s husband, George, was supposed to have been the whizz kid academic to head the history department, but now in his forties has disappointed Martha’s expectations and turned into what she describes as “a great big flop”. Arriving home after the party, Martha announces she has invited a newly-arrived young biologist and his wife, Nick and Honey, to have a nightcap—a couple who may have represented for her a carbon copy of their former, more hopeful selves.

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