Edward Albee – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf


In today’s playwright lesson we moved on to American playwrights and started off by looking at Edward Albee who wrote ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’. Edward Albee was writing throughout the 1960’s and died only recently, in 2016; the majority of his play’s were domestic dramas that centred around couples, relationships and everyday situations. Interestingly Albee is renowned for titling each of the acts of his plays in an almost episodic way much like a novelist would label the chapters in their books.

We started the lesson in the same manner we start every playwright lesson, by sharing everything we already knew about the playwright and the play we would be exploring itself. Albeit, no one really had much to offer in regards to our knowledge base of this American playwright, although most of us knew that we really should! I was only able to share that I knew the play was being revived this year to the west end with Imelda Staunton playing the lead role, but that is literally all I knew about the play. As well as being slightly ashamed by my lack of knowledge on this famous play, I was extremely excited to learn more about it (especially as Imelda Staunton will be in the new revival!).

We worked through three separate extracts from the play, one from each of the three acts (which are named ‘Fun and Games’, ‘Walpurgisnacht’, ‘The exorcism’) by just taking turns to read through the script and then having a brief discussion about the characters in  the scene. The first extract we looked at from Act 1 features the two central characters, Martha and George, who we learn have a strange relationship where they play psychological games with each other such as inventing an imaginary son (as Martha can’t have children) which they vow to keep a secret. Throughout the extract we learn various qualities about the characters; for example George is a university Professor working at the university that Martha’s father runs, and tends to use his intelligence and passive manner as a way of getting to Martha, who appears very forceful, manipulative and controlling. The relationship between the couple seems tense and conflicting, with the constantly interrupting each other and snapping in response. Regardless, George remains calm and nonchalant which is almost his way of winding her up more. Act 2 of the play introduces two more characters Nick and Honey (who have been invited round for a party); George and Martha seem to use this couple as another indirect way of grilling one another and winding each other up even more. In the seen we looked at Honey is incredibly drunk and is dancing around throughout the scene, while Nick is responding in a rather embarrassed way, which made me believe that Albee was trying to portray both the male characters in a rather passive way while giving the female characters the more vocal roles. Throughout the scene Martha is trying to get at her husband by flirting and dancing with Nick, however George’s responses suggest that he is so used to it that he doesn’t care or doesn’t react as another way of annoying his wife. The extract from Act 3 is a lot more static and moving than the first two acts and makes the audience ask questions as to whether George and Martha’s relationship will remain intact without all their psychological games or if it was that that was keeping their relationship alive. At the beginning of the scene Nick reveals that he found out that Martha told Honey about their secret of the imaginary son and as a result he kills off the son in their fantasy, but Martha is so desperate to keep hold of their fantasy and create a new child, but George denies her of this and says its time they stopped. It is in this scene that we realise that although Martha comes across as the one with the most power and status throughout the play, George’s intelligence and sophistication gives him the most power and status at the end.

As a whole the plot and writing style really reminded me of Pinter’s The Lovers, in the fact they play with the ideas of an imaginary world the couple share as a means of sparking their relationship, alongside the way Albee uses speech patterns with pauses and interrupting lines etc. I really enjoyed working on this play and feel that it is something I would like to look into further in my own time, as well as some of Albee’s other plays to see how they compare.



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