As we enter the final stages of preparation for the opening of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , director David Mercatali (Blue Heart, Dark Vanilla Jungle, Radiant Vermin) reflects on what it has been like working on this exhilarating piece of classic theatre.
Why Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Is it a piece you’ve always wanted to direct?
I spent the first half of my career working on new plays, so I was always focused on meeting writers and telling new stories, like Philip Ridley’s Dark Vanilla Jungle and Radiant Vermin, both of which I did at Tobacco Factory Theatres.
It was only a few years ago that I started working on more classics. I started thinking about the plays that made me fall in love with theatre in the first place. That’s what led me back to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. When I first read it, I couldn’t believe words could be so exciting.
What do you think is the secret of this play’s enduring appeal?
People love watching conflict and this play is the ultimate conflict. It’s about two people outdoing each other in front of an audience. The script is still so edgy, with a wicked sense of humour. If it were written tomorrow, you’d still think it was revolutionary. It’s that good.
George and Martha are two of the most iconic characters in the contemporary canon. What are the qualities an actor must have to play either of these roles?
They have to be very, very playful, enjoy language, be prepared to not hold back when it comes to crunch time but beneath all that really feel the pain the character is going through. Luckily in Pooky Quesnel and Mark Meadows, we’re blessed with two outstanding actors.
Is your rehearsal room a collaborative one?
Always. That’s the way theatre works. It’s the one art form that responds best to collaboration, because director and writer hand over the work to the actors in the end.
How does the intimate setting of the Factory Theatre enhance the experience of the audience?
It’s going to be exhilarating. The actors are going to be so close to the audience that it will feel even more like an arena. If I had to choose the ideal set for this piece, it would be in the round, so the Factory Theatre is perfect.
What is it that you want audiences to leave with after they see a performance?
I want them to have been excited, but ultimately moved.
Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? runs at Tobacco Factory Theatres from Wed 19 February – Sat 21 March.
David was speaking to Natalie Banyard for The Bristol Post.
Posted on 14 February 2020