Kathleen Turner recently garnered some very fine reviews playing Edward Albee's celebrated alcoholic, Martha, in the West End. But here in Manchester, it is Philip Bretherton's manipulative player, George, who steals the show.
Surviving by playing hurtful games, this cruel couple's unhappy 23 year marriage needs some spice; something to snap it into shape. Enter young, naive newlyweds, Honey and Nick. As the long evening progresses, secrets are spilled, tears are shed and Martha lures young Nick into a web of desire. Honey sits helplessly on the sidelines - turning to alcohol to numb her own pain.
With acidic lines like: "If you existed, I'd divorce you" - Albee's wonderful play still makes you laugh out loud one minute and crawl into a ball, cringing the next. Being a three hour verbal marathon, each member of the cast has to raise their game constantly. Barbara Marten's Martha has the fire, self loathing and the seductress elements down to a tee. Yet her accent wavers so much, she sounds like she is from the Bronx. Still, she does paint this sad character with many sympathetic traits, as opposed to an out of control monster.
Michael Begley's Nick is excellent as the rabbit-like guest; caught in the headlights waiting to be skinned. Joanne Froggatt brings comedy, pathos and wide eyed innocence to her Honey. Transforming herself from pawn in the struggle to giggling spectator, she is quite marvellous. Bretherton makes this play all about George. Strutting round the living room like a peacock, pulling innocents in like worms; you are reminded how nightmarish this play can be, if performed this darkly. He is wickedly brilliant.
Albee’s dissection of the marriage is exhausting. But Sarah Frankcom is the ideal director because she will always unearth the beauty. She did the same with Kes and Separate Tables. Here, she beautifully contrasts the gladiatorial elements of the crumbling marriage with the quieter, softer moments which highlight the love that still exists in this house.
Hannah Clark’s plush set is an ideal backdrop for the blood, sweat and tears battles. Richard G Jones’ unforgiving lighting brings tension to the already high drama.
This black comedy stands up as a timely look at a “vile sewer of a marriage”, which even though overlong, still manages to be frank, funny, yet gut wrenchingly sad.
- Glenn Meads