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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The People's Theatre

Young Reviewer Melissa Jordan catches Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which is at the People's Theatre in Newcastle until Saturday.

Young Reviewer Melissa Jordan catches Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which is at the People's Theatre in Newcastle until Saturday.

Being in the company of a married couple who do not bother to hide their disdain for each other must be one of the most awkward social situations you could be stuck in. This is the position in which two young characters in Edward Albee's play find themselves.

It's 60s America and college professor George and wife Martha arrive home from a faculty party to carry on their night of drinking in the company of new-lecturer-on-the-block Nick and his bland young wife Honey.

The young couple, partly there out of politeness, soon realise they are actually there to be the audience to George and Martha's show of bitter sniping.

Worse, they gradually get drawn into the "fun and games" themselves. But there are no winners of these game as the night unfolds. Nick's indiscretion about his marriage seals his deal with this devilish sport, and when any normal person would leave the party, the combination of drink and ambition compels him to stay.

The play paints a portrait of alcoholism as well as well-practised emotional violence between a husband and wife who hate each other.

Nick and Honey are bewildered by their sudden entrapment and often seem like convenient plot devices so that George and Martha can continue their verbal sparring.

Really it is always George and Martha's play and actors Moira Valentine and Tony Dowling make the parts their own. They never waver in their bitter intensity and Valentine, in particular, is stunning as the simultaneously monstrous and tragic Martha.

When the play was first shown on Broadway one critic called it "a sick play for sick people". It is not always easy to watch a marriage descending into despair.

But it's a testament to the talent in the non-professional People's Theatre that they have not shied away from producing a play with such difficult subject matter.

It is two and a half hours long but it is worth staying for the shocking third act, where the truth of the couple's relationship is revealed in the cold light of dawn.

An emotionally intense but rewarding evening.

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