Monday, April 03, 2006
Be afraid... be very afraid
I haven't yet blogged about my favourite performance on the West End stage in the past year or so, and, as I walked past the poster for the umpteenth time on my way home tonight, I realised that it's about time. Anthony Page's revival of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was nominated for a sheaf of Tonys on Broadway, but its single win was absolutely in the right place: Bill Irwin's George is breathtaking. He seems to seep onto the stage, this thin, grey man who you hardly reckon is going to stand a chance against Kathleen Turner's blowzy hurricane of a Martha, but there's something instantly deadly beneath his self-effacing urbanity, and an instinct for self-preservation — through the slow setting of traps, the maliciously delayed rolling out of the same old score-settling strategies — that you realise is, in a horrid kind of way, his life's work. There's such dry wit and intelligence to this performance, and yet such a vivid sense of a tragically shrivelled worldview: Irwin gives us a man who has somehow pinned himself inside his own smirking vocabulary. I loved the way he lets drop his punchlines — "That's just blood under the bridge" — with the faint but unmissable smugness of aperçus he's rehearsed to himself a million times over. I loved his gangly command of the stage, his slightly ghoulish rictus when there's a big point to be scored and he knows it. Irwin's face on the billboards never fails to elicit a smile from me, a shake of the head, and, a few paces further down the street, a shudder.