Whilst some things are “certainly a flop” Mermaids ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ was not one of them. As someone who has been at various universities over the past four years, I’ve seen my fair share of student theatre. Naively, I thought I knew what to expect. I thought I knew the recipe for student theatre; enjoyable but nothing spectacular. ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ took my preconceptions and shattered them. I walked home in the rain with an ache in my chest from how hard this production hit me, agonising over how I could give justice to what this performance made me feel in just one review.
When I first took my seat, I was impressed with the set up of the stage. The period music set the scene nicely and the buzzing audience added to the atmosphere. The whole stage space was utilised fully. As a student, I felt right at home amongst the empty bottles, books, a hot water bottle, and half empty glasses of alcohol. It really did look like ‘the morning after the night before’. Without knowing the plot of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ prior to seeing this production, the set captured the tone perfectly and I could guess what alcohol fuelled chaos was about to ensue. At this point I need to give credit to the director, Charlie Flynn, for getting everything spot-on. The attention to detail was wonderful; I particularly liked the painting on the wall, making the stage space feel more like a room than a set. There is something intimate but suffocating about feeling like you’re in an actual room, this whole set up helped me get lost in the play, often forgetting that I was in a room full of people. The brilliance of the set helped make this an immersive experience.
George says, “alcohol is for the pure and simple” but nothing about this play is simple. The biggest challenge is keeping an audience entertained for three hours, which the cast successfully did. The characters were cast perfectly, and I was impressed with everyone’s accents and stage presence. I felt like I was a part of this awkward party, and at points I found myself visibly cringing at the discomfort the conversation induced. Honey, played by Brittany Barwise, was probably the most relatable character: the party’s drunk liability who has no idea what’s going on most of the time! From her comedically timed interjections, questionable dance moves, to perfect facial expressions, Brittany captured the role of Honey perfectly. The twists and turns of the drama quite literally had me on the edge of my seat. The two intervals were timed perfectly and left me desperate for the ten minutes to hurry up so I could find out what was coming next. Watching each character come to terms with a difficult and tragic past in a cruellest way really was a powerful experience. Scenes went from nonsense to trauma then back to nonsense again, feeling completely unpredictable whilst being raw and real. I never knew when someone else’s tragedy was about to be revealed, which kept me excited throughout. The ‘games’ were chilling and each time George suggested a new game, I felt my skin crawl in anticipation of the potential revelation of yet another horror.
For a three-hour, four-person student production I was incredibly impressed and the audience’s standing ovation at the end says more than I can put into words. I must give credit to Annabel Steele for moving me and other audience members to tears with her powerful final speech. Her delivery of Martha’s final break down was heart-wrenching and her sobs came in waves over the silent audience; you could cut the tension with a knife. Martha’s character development was brilliant, seeing the hurt behind the bravado was so powerful. To have a character that makes you laugh and cry over and over really is something special.
Not even the occasional line slip up could take away from the brilliance of the production, in fact it made it even more entertaining. The biggest shame is that this production only ran for one night, with all the hard work that clearly went into production it would have been nice to have more dates to give others an opportunity to see this play. Nevertheless, the packed Barron was a sight to behold and I am glad I got to share the experience of this play with so many others who laughed alongside me. Even the seagulls outside sounded like they were having a great time (that’s St Andrews for you)!
The three hours flew by, from laughing to crying to laughing again; this production was spectacular. The whole production team should be very proud of themselves for pulling off such an ambitious performance. Mermaids’ ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ really was a superb piece of student theatre.