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Audio Drama Review


Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
1962 Original Broadway Cast Recording


Starring: Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, George Grizzard and Melinda Dillon

Label: Masterworks Broadway

RRP: £9.99

Release Date: 19 March 2014

Returning home, a little worse for wear from a faculty party, Martha and George continue their ongoing personal attacks, an aspect of their marriage breakdown. They are denied solitude whilst tearing chunks out of each other when Martha invites a new young couple back for late night drinks. Even the inclusion of these non-combatants does little to restrain either of them and as the long night progresses Nick and Honey find themselves drawn into the battle...

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962) is a multi-award winning Broadway play, written by Edward Albee and directed by Alan Schneider.

There can be few film fans who have not sat through the uncomfortable prospect of Burton and Taylor’s portrayal, especially as they were on and off married. It is the version most known to people and so the prospect of a recording of the original Broadway cast might lead you to think that this will be a lessor experience, when in fact the Burton/Taylor pairing is positively restrained compared to the brutal portrayal by Uta Hagan and Arthur Hill.

The play is split into three acts, the first, 'Fun and Games’ (56 min, 46 sec) introduce us to Martha and George and their destructive game, before their guests arrive. Martha continually picks at George, who responds in a passive / aggressive manner. The taunting continues even when Honey and Nick turn up.

Act Two, ‘Walpurgisnacht’ (37 min) is a satirical reference to a joyful festival as the games turn more dangerous, fuelled by drink and anger George stops being passive and goes on the attack, especially when Martha starts discussing their son. Pushed beyond his normal limits and after a particularly vicious attack, George instigates a new game ‘get the guests’ where he turns on honey especially.

Act Three, ‘The Exorcism’ (40 min, 33 sec) and Martha’s taunting has finally pushed George over the edge. Having continually discussed their son in front of the guests, against George’s expressed wishes, George starts the final game ‘Bringing up Baby’. George gathers Martha and the guests together to reveal that he has received a telegram stating that their son has died in a car crash. As the play comes to a close it is revealed that their son never existed and it is the couple’s inability to conceive which is behind their war of words.

This recording has the original stage cast with Uta Hagen as Martha, Arthur Hill as George, George Grizzard as Nick and Melinda Dillon as Honey. The play was originally released as a four LP set in 1963 and has not been released till now.

The audio was recorded not at the Billy Rose Theatre where the play was being performed, but the unusual decision was taken to bring the four principles into the studio to record the play, as such there is an almost inaudible hiss throughout the recording. In truth the performances are so powerful that it is unlikely that you’ll be aware of it unless you listen. The recording does have a sense of space, which I presume was achieved by having the cast move about the studio, which recreates the sensation of being in a theatre.

Given that the play is all about wordplay between the four characters means that you lose nothing of the action by listening to it as an audio. Time and distance has not dimmed the power of the performances, the play is compelling, like watch an awful car crash in slow motion.


Charles Packer

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