Howard Davies' revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, at the West End's Almeida Theatre, opened to rave reviews on Wednesday, Sept. 25. All the performers received strong notices, though the consensus is that this production is a personal triumph for Diana Rigg.
In his review for the London Evening Standard, (Sept. 26) Nicholas de Jongh exulted: "It is not just the most enthralling marriage-game play of the post war period...Edward Albee's Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf looks, in this terrific revival, like a classic revelation of how far we depend on fantasies and illusions to sustain our unsatisfactory lives."
"And Diana Rigg," de Jongh continued, "voice big, loud and hoarse with despair, discovers an overwhelming emotional power new to her -- and to us."
Jack Tinker, of the Daily Mail (Sept. 26), called the production "a rare and shattering event, one which no doubt will find a West End audience."
Daily Telegraph critic Charles Spencer admitted, "There are moments when Albee's writing rings false and shrill, and he is too eager to import a wider significance into his story of a marital bearpit...Worse still, the debate between George, the history professor...and Nick, the blond, blue-eyed young thruster in the biology department...seems both pretentious and perfunctory." Spencer was more complimentary in the rest of his Sept. 26 review: "Howard Davis' long but always enthralling production seems alert to every nuance, every flicker of emotion... [Diana] Rigg snarls, growls and knocks back the gin like a woman possessed...suddenly this most beautiful of actresses looks like a haggard wreck. David Suchet matches her performance every inch of the harrowing way."
"Has the play dated since its premiere in 1962?" asked Benedict Nightingale in the London Times. "Well, Martha's tacit assumption that she should live through her husband is of its period. But the quarrel between George's embattled humanism and the hard-nosed commitment to eugenics he rightly or wrongly attributes to Nick seems more topical today..."
Nightingale closed his review thusly: "Forty years ago the critic Kenneth Tynan delcared that, brilliant and funny though the play was, it left the watcher's emotions `unbruised and unmoved'. Not at the Almeida, not last night."
The 1962 play, considered one of the masterworks of modern drama, originally starred Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill on Broadway, followed by Mike Nichols' film version with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Diana Rigg last appeared on Brodway as Medea.