EDWARD Albee’s intense, sprawling examination of three hours in the lives of a quartet of edgy intellectuals hellbent on destroying each other should be firmly filed under ‘period pieces’ by now.
Its characters and the lives they lead are as far removed from our own as anything from Oscar Wilde or Chekhov. Our exposure to the whole truth versus lies arena and the machinations of the borderline mentally unstable is the subject of soap opera now rather than great literature.
To spend three hours in the company of four middle class Americans whose entire existence is fuelled by a diet of bitterness and booze ought to be unproductive at best. But thanks to the attention to detail in this production and the sheer power of the performances on stage, it is far from that.
Breathing life back into some fairly dusty drama and managing to make it into a compelling evening is the stuff of real quality and Gordon Vallins’s productions manages just that with bags of swagger and style.
A chaotic room filled with reminders that these people are high-minded and comparatively high-achieving folk, plus an endless supply of late-night drinks, forms the ring in which the fight that breaks out on page one is still raging in one form or another even as the light of dawn appears outside.
Mark Crossley and Julie-Ann Randell as the middle-aged hosting couple are both excellent throughout. Spiky, sarcastic, spiteful and able to change emotions in the blink of an eye, they are as believable as characters from this alien world could be. Given the unrelenting torrent of hate, resentment and jealousy they serve up it is to the immense credit of both actors that we find room from time to time to actually like them.
Trapped in this endless battle over disappointment and delusion are James McCabe and Jasmine Hutchings as the younger couple whose presence is merely a catalyst for further rancour. Again the performances are well-observed, consistent and believable.
Either as duologues or a quartet there are simply no weak spots. Indeed it would be hard to find four stronger or better matched performances anywhere.
Ultimately the twist-in-the-tail packs little of the punch it may have done back in the early 1960s but the sense that life’s struggles have not ended but merely reached a temporary lull as the new day dawns is palpable.
Make no mistake, the play will tell you nothing new about human interactions and human failings. But the production should still send you home immensely impressed.