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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

by Edward Albee

"A modern classic and in the hands of Bath's Playing Up it transcends its 46 years to feel as acerbic and moving as if it was written for our times..."
Venue Magazine

About the play

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? first opened on Broadway on October 13, 1962. The play won both the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1962-63 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. It was also selected for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, though subsequently withdrawn after objections to the language and sexual themes.

In 1966 it was filmed with the then married Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The film was the only one to be nominated in every eligible category at the Academy Awards. Each of the four main actors was nominated for an Oscar but only Taylor and Sandy Dennis (Honey) won, for Best Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively. The film itself won the Black and White Cinematography award for Haskell Wexler’s stark, black-and-white camera work (it was the last film to win before the category was eliminated). The film also received the BAFTA Award for Best Film from any Source.

In Albee’s own words, the play deals with, “the destructive forces of various falsities in relationships.”  Interviewed while he was writing the play, he said it also had “something to do with what I thought The American Dream had to do with – the substitution of artificial for real values in this society of ours. It’s sort of a grotesque comedy.”  The title is taken from graffiti Albee saw one night, scrawled on the mirror behind a New York bar; he has said it means, “who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, which means who’s afraid of living life without delusions?” and the play is about stripping away illusion.

Despite the fact that it is only one of over 40 plays written by Edward Albee, its success has been a double edged sword. As Albee himself wrote in the programme notes for the Almeida’s 1996 revival of the play: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? hung about my neck like a shining medal of some sort – really nice but a trifle onerous.”  Onerous perhaps, but it is without doubt one of the finest crafted plays with some of the best dialogue ever written.

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