Archive Articles

Today The Herald published our response to Brian Beacom’s column ('It’s hard to see Stanley Kowalski as anything but white', The Herald, August 31). The unabridged letter is below:

We are writing in response to Brian Beacom’s opinion piece on Rapture Theatre’s current production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, which was published in The Herald, on 31st August.

Despite writing prior to viewing the actual show, and with absolutely no knowledge of our company’s creative approach, Mr Beacom decided to make several assumptions about our artistic decisions which are both inaccurate and unacceptable to us.

Blanche Dubois and Stanley Kowalski just might be the most contrasting characters found in modern drama. Practically every aspect about them is a polar opposite, from their gender and background to their outlook towards life.

While every production takes a different approach to these two fascinating characters, playwright Tennessee Williams wanted Blanche and Stanley to be evenly matched, having ‘a balance of power’. The richness of A Streetcar Named Desire’s text is found not necessarily within the plot but within the power struggle between these two icons of modern theatre.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017 18:14

Who’s your favourite character in Streetcar?

We asked a school pupil 'Who’s your favourite character in Streetcar?'. Here is what they said:

My favourite character is Mitch because I think he gets a bit of a raw deal in the play and I can’t help feeling sorry for him.

Mitch is a decent human being who is constantly trying to please his mother and is accused by Stanley of being a mummy’s boy because of it.  He maybe resents his mum because he’s been away in the army and travelled a lot, but now he’s stuck at home looking after her. If he does resent her though, he doesn’t really show it. He just does it because it’s his duty which makes me like him because he cares enough to put his own feelings to one side.

Friday, 08 September 2017 07:54

An interview with Gina Isaac

Michael Cox: What was your first experience with Streetcar?

Gina Isaac: It was watching the Elia Kazan film. I'm a huge Brando fan and absolutely loved the film when I first saw it about 20 years ago. It's an amazing film, and Brando and Vivien Leigh work so well together - the old style meeting the new. I've only ever seen one theatre production of
Streetcar, with a wonderful actress, Geraldine Alexander, playing Blanche. Years later I had the pleasure of working with her on the national tour of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. It was a lovely thing to be able to tell her that I'd seen her play Blanche.

MC: Let’s talk a little more about Blanche. When was the first time you thought of her as a viable character for yourself?

GI: I don't know really. There are always parts that you'd love to play as an actress, and of course Blanche Dubois is definitely 'up there' in terms of the biggies, but it wasn't a part that I felt I had to play. Once I started preparing for the audition though I became totally gripped by her. It's a great feeling when you read a part and something about them speaks to you. I guess that's when I realised I would love the chance to try and play her! Funnily enough, I have been watching a lot of southern and classic films as part of my research, and
Gone with the Wind (also starring Vivien Leigh) was the film that really 'clicked' for the concept of the 'Southern Belle'. It completely captures the old world of white privilege and vast plantations, the world from which both Blanche and Stella descend.

Friday, 01 September 2017 13:14

A Legacy Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire is often regarded as amongst the finest plays of the 20th century, if not of all time, and it is considered by many to be playwright Tennessee Williams' greatest. It is also one of those rare ‘Before/After’ events: the theatre world drastically changed after the play opened on Broadway.

In 1947, the year of Streetcar’s premiere, Broadway was mostly made up of comedies, revivals of classic texts and musicals. The rule of thumb was that audiences wanted to be entertained with flimsy plots and catchy tunes. Streetcar not only challenged that notion but also presented an original experience: a poetic script that teetered between the realistic and the symbolic.

It won numerous prestigious awards, including the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the Pulitzer. Two years later, in 1949, Lawrence Olivier directed the UK premiere in London in a production that thrilled and challenged audiences and critics alike.

Tuesday, 09 May 2017 18:37

Who's Afraid of Feminism?

Michael Cox speaks with Sara Stewart about how feminism and modern society have changed the way audiences view Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the role of Martha.

Michael Cox: When the play first opened there were a lot of charges against Albee that he was a misogynist and anti-women. There were people in the 60s who actually accused him of disguising the fact that it was really a play about four gay men. So, my first question is—over 50 years later—do you see Martha more as a masculine role or do you really think she is a feminine role who’s just strong in her ways?

Sara Stewart: Yeah, okay. I get that argument, and I think there’s an element of truth in the writings of Tennessee Williams and Noel Coward and Edward Albee. They were not allowed to have gay characters in their plays at that time. So, I’m sure they sublimated a lot of gay men into female roles, and thank God they did because some of the best writing for women has come from these gay playwrights who actually allowed female characters to have wit and guts and personality. They are the better writers for women, I think. Now, as a woman, she doesn’t strike me as masculine at all! She’s a fully rounded out person. Actually, I think, conversely, he was highlighting the tragedy of women who were stuck in a position they weren’t able to fully flourish and be their full selves. They were judged on appearances and their ability to have babies and whether they were a good wife or not. I sort of witnessed that in my mother, too. And I’m pleased to say that I do feel that in my lifetime there are all these women in society who have really changed, so that I now can look at my daughter, who’s just coming out of college. She’s 22, and she has a very different set of yard sticks that she’s going to measure her achievements that she values herself with. I find that very…moving.

Michael: Would you say that Virginia Woolf is now a period piece because society has shifted so drastically?

Sara: I do think it’s a period piece in some senses. We did come to that agreement on day one. There are certain things about this play that fix it very squarely in its time, but there are things that are outrageously relevant. There’re just so many different opportunities that are available now that weren’t available then. Martha should have been a teacher at the college. Why did she have to marry into the college? Why couldn’t she have trained to be a teacher herself? So, yeah, there are things that fix it squarely in its time, but there are human truths that are, and always will be, relevant.

Michael: There are also things that happen in this play that a modern audience would probably look at differently than audiences in the 60s. We look at the alcoholism differently. We look at the roles…not just Martha but Honey. I think Honey, in a modern light, is certainly different. I think she was the comic relief then but I think she’s more of a tragic figure in a modern context.

Sara: Yeah, that might be true. Absolutely. Because she’s someone that you sense is a free spirit, and the system is already crushing her. And I suppose sexuality is a big theme as well. Albee’s pretty honest and quite brave, I think, having Nick say that he and Honey don’t really have a sexual relationship. But the fact that Martha is…it must have been shocking in its time…the fact that she is so sexually aggressive and so sexually confident. I just think it’s great, actually. When it was written, they didn’t even think women had orgasms. It must have been so shocking.

Michael: That and homosexuality was a mental illness.

Sara: Exactly. So, the idea that a woman had an actual sexual appetite in itself was really shocking. Whereas now, I think it’s still unusual to portray a middle-aged woman as being a person who has a sexual appetite. It’s still a taboo. So I relish that opportunity.

Michael: And when it’s done it’s usually for laughs.

Sara: Exactly! Oh my God, it’s my casting. I get cast as that a lot, the sort of…the comic MILF. It’s funny, an older woman being a bit sexy or mutton dressed as lamb or whatever it is. We’re not sending Martha up for that. We’re not making her ridiculous in her sexuality. She’s a red-blooded woman.

© Michael Cox

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
3rd May to 3rd Jun, 2017

Thursday, 04 May 2017 14:22

Getting Albee Right

Michael Cox: When did you first decide you wanted to direct Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Michael Emans: I’ve wanted to do this for years. A lot of people have been turned down in Scotland. We put together a proposal which we think appealed, and we got the rights. It’s a feather in our cap that Albee gave us the rights. You feel a sort of responsibility: we’ve got to do really good now. But we’ve got a smashing cast of actors.

MC: In casting, did you have a specific type of person you were looking for, or was it a matter of waiting for the right person to come who was just the character?

ME: A combination of both. You’re looking for actors who can handle text, and you’re looking for actors who have an energy to them, who have got ‘chutzpah’ to them, who’ve got an intelligence to them, who’ve got a sensitivity to language and emotion. So it’s quite a big checklist. You want actors who can do all of that, and that isn’t as easily to find as one necessarily thinks. And the ages have to be right.

MC: It’s a play that’s over 50 years old. What makes Virginia Woolf relevant to a modern audience?

ME: I think people relate to these characters. It’s about relationships at the end of the day. It’s about love and it’s—well, the relationships are somewhat dysfunctional but there’s still love there. But it’s not an issue play. It’s a play about people. The play is so rich. It’s so deep. It’s like an onion—you peel away a layer and you’ve got another. A criticism I’ve heard of the play is that it could just be people shouting at each other for three hours, but there’s a lot of humour in it. It’s a nice contrast to all the dramatic moments—well, the more emotional moments. It’s very extreme—I suppose that’s the mark of a really good play.

MC: This is a play you’ve wanted to do for a long time. Does that initial excitement for the piece still hold, or is there a newfound push to make this play happen?

ME: I think I first wanted to do this almost 15 years ago. I’m older now. I’m actually the same age as George in the play—we’re both 46.

MC: So you were more of a Nick at the time?

ME: Yes. So, I’m coming to the play now probably at the right time. The passion is still there, but there’s more life experience. That’s an important change for me.

MC: Do you think you now have more sympathy or empathy for George and Martha, or are you more suspicious of them as you are more similar in age now?

ME: I see it from both sides, actually. I read some notes that were written quite a while ago, and they talked about Honey being a lesser character. But I think that Honey is key. Every character is key. It’s a play about four characters.

MC: I think that it’s a play that past productions have gotten stuck on Martha so much—they’ve ignored the other three.

ME: Kind of, yeah. She has great lines, and you will always get a powerful actress playing Martha. Maybe in the past there was a value for a play to have a female character that was so powerful. Maybe that’s why so many people were attracted to Martha. Some productions cast her first then cast around her. But this play has four rich characters, so this is an ensemble piece and not just a play about one person.

MC: How has it been tackling such a difficult, highly regarded play?

ME: I have loved doing this. It’s been special. I’m happy we got the three-year backing from Creative Scotland because we’ve built to this point over the last couple of years. Knowing we had that backing gave us confidence to go and do this.

MC: It’s good that Creative Scotland is backing experimental theatre as well as language-based full evenings out.

ME: That’s the great thing. You’ve got Vanishing Point on one end and you’ve got David Leddy’s company Fire Exit, and you’ve got the Lyceum and Dundee Rep and Rapture, amongst other companies. We all do something that’s quite different. That variety is good for audiences. You don’t want everybody doing ‘vast experimental’ stuff. In fact, every one is doing ‘experimental’ work. Until you know the result, everything is an experiment. By supporting different things, you’re bringing more people into the audience. You’ve got an awful lot of companies that do different things, but we compliment each other because of who we all are.

© Michael Cox

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
3rd May to 3rd Jun, 2017

Friday, 28 April 2017 13:55

Who's Afraid of a Legacy?

‘It’s odd isn’t it that so many contemporary playwrights are best known for one play, usually an early one and, while often a very good one, not necessarily their finest work… I find Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? hung about my neck like a shining medal of some sort—really nice but a trifle onerous.’ –Edward Albee, in a programme note for a 1996 London revival.

As Albee stated in the above quote, a playwright’s most significant work tends to be an early one. And while Albee would buck the trend by writing further great plays near the end of his career, the utter importance of Virginia Woolf, his first full-length play, cannot be debated.

The Writing of Virginia Woolf

Originally called The Exorcism, the play began to bubble in Albee’s mind with a desire to look at ‘the destructive forces of various falsities in relationships.’ While drafting the play’s first two acts, he was reminded of seeing the title written with soap on a mirror in a Greenwich Village bar in the mid-1950s. ‘When I started to write the play it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf means who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, who’s…afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical university, intellectual joke.’

Albee’s script is filled with word play and ambiguity. Indeed, the play is filled with intellectual games, and the characters all have moments where there are questions of fact and fiction. Albee leaves it to the audience to decipher what is ‘truth’ and what is ‘illusion’.

In interviews, when asked what certain moments mean he’d continuously say that a play that can be summed up in a few sentences should be only that length, and to ensure his vision was respected he added excessive stage notations—a fact that has both pleased and frustrated actors, directors and designers since its Broadway premiere in 1962.

The Reactions

When the play opened, the reactions were decidedly mixed—no one thought it was okay: they either loved it or loathed it. Some critics championed Albee’s ambiguities and use of language while the blunt language used shocked others. ‘A sick play for sick people’ and a play that’s ‘four characters wide and a cesspool deep’ are just some of the charges laid against it.

The play would also run afoul of obscenity laws. American tours had to change and justify its use of language to the satisfaction of bureaucrats. When the play opened in London, the Lord Chamberlain demanded numerous cuts and changes—forcing Albee to be creative in order to slip as many profanities as he could get away with.

Perhaps the biggest showing of how controversial the play’s use of language had become was when the jury of the Pulitzer Prize awarded the play best drama: the board revoked the jury’s decision because they didn’t want to reward a ‘vulgar’ play. Had the board given Albee the prize, he would tie Eugene O’Neill with four career wins.

Many also refused to acknowledge that women would behave as Martha does. Some accused Albee of creating a ‘monstrous dual stereotype: smothering mother and voracious whore’ with the character. Some critics even refused to believe that Albee intended Martha and Honey to be female but that the play was really about four homosexual men. Albee, himself gay, refuted this, stating that if the characters were supposed to be gay he would have written them that way. This would come to a head when a proposed all-male production was made: Albee inserted a gender-specific clause into the play’s licensing contract, ensuing Martha and Honey were always portrayed by women.

Legacy

Virginia Woolf might have met controversy but it proved lucrative for Albee. He would go on to greatly profit from the numerous productions of the play—and for selling the rights for the celebrated film (which he did not write). The play would prove equally compelling—and controversial—for critics and audiences alike internationally, giving him greater success and acclaim overseas than in America.

One thing Albee did with his profits was to establish the Edward F Albee Foundation in 1967, which is a residence for writers and visual artists based on an estate in Montauk, New York. He began the foundation as a way of giving young artists starting out in their careers a safe place to develop their skills. The estate has proven a great success and is still running.

Maybe Albee’s greatest legacy with Virginia Woolf was in how American theatre’s language changed. ‘He invented a new language,’ says Terrence McNally, a fellow American playwright (and former lover of Albee). ‘[His was] the first authentically new voice in theatre since Tennessee Williams.’ But perhaps its Michael Smith, writing in the Village Voice, who best voiced why the play would ricochet through theatre. ‘Edward Albee has found fire in the soggy ashes of naturalism and forged a technique of inestimable potential. This is a crucial event in the birth of a contemporary American Theatre.’

© Michael Cox

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
3rd May to 3rd Jun, 2017




Thursday, 27 April 2017 09:51

Edward Albee: An Authentically Unique Voice

Winner of numerous awards and acclaim, Edward Albee is a unique voice of the American theatre, standing with Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller as a pillar of 20th-Century American drama.

Writing in his obituary in the New York Times, Bruce Weber states that Albee is ‘widely considered the foremost American playwright of his generation, whose psychologically astute and piercing dramas explored the contentiousness of intimacy, the gap between self-delusion and truth and roiling desperation beneath the façade of contemporary life.’

Albee was born March 12, 1928 but was put up for adoption within the second week of his life. His adoptive father was Reed A Albee, the heir of a fortune made from his family’s success in running vaudeville companies. Reed was a well-known adulterer and was barely at home. His mother Frances was little better. A socialite who was Reed’s third wife, she would prove to be a rotten maternal figure for Albee but a wonderful muse: aspects of her would pop up in many of his plays.

Albee knew he wanted to be a writer and that he was gay by the time he was a teenager. As staunch conservatives, his parents strongly disapproved. In speaking about them in an interview with Charlie Rose, Albee said ‘I think they wanted somebody who would be a corporate thug of some sort, or perhaps a doctor or lawyer or something respectable…They didn’t want a writer on their hands. Good God, no.’ He would also claim that his family gave him money instead of love.

After numerous arguments, Albee left home and ended up in Greenwich Village. He would befriend many different artists and take odd jobs for financial support. During this time he dabbled in many forms of writing, having only a few poems published without any major success. He showed his work to many in his circle, including the American playwright Thornton Wilder, who recommended that he write plays: whether he saw something or simply didn’t think his poetry held muster is unknown.

Nearing the age of 30, Albee ‘borrowed’ a typewriter from his employer to write a play. Taking less than three weeks, the result was his first major work: The Zoo Story. He struggled to get an American production but managed to secure its world premiere in Berlin. The play would finally perform in New York, first as a one-off staged reading at the Actors Studio (where Norman Mailer declared it the best one-act he’d ever seen) and then Off-Broadway—Albee is credited by many as helping launch the New York Off-Broadway movement. Albee would write several other one-acts, all receiving mixed reviews but putting him firmly on the radar of playwrights to watch.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, arguably his greatest work, opened on Broadway in 1962. The play won multiple awards and ran for nearly two years.  In an interview, Albee said the spark for the play came from a desire to look at ‘the destructive forces of various falsities in relationships.’

It courted controversy. For such an iconic play, the initial reviews were rather mixed, some loving the play but others comparing it to a cesspool with its ‘vulgar’ depictions of marriage, sex and language.

The film version premiered in 1966 and would receive similar notices: a mixture of acclaim and condemnation. The film won many awards, but its frank language also stirred up controversy. The film pleasantly surprised Albee: he was glad that it mostly kept his script and that its director had an appreciation for film and the story.

Time was cruel to Albee after Virginia Woolf. While he had a few successes, including the plays A Delicate Balance and Seascapes, the following years would see failure upon failure, with many of his plays quickly closing. Albee also turned to alcohol, causing even more friction personally and professionally.

After the death of his father, contact with his mother proved mostly cool: she struggled with his artisan life and refused to accept his homosexuality. When his mother died, Albee learned that she’d written him out of her will—a final slight. However, Albee used his mother and her death as the catalyst to write Three Tall Women—the play that would secure him a professional third act of new success and acclaim. He would remain active, seeing revivals of his major work and writing more award-winning plays.

He would significantly slow down with the death of his partner of 32 years, Jonathan Thomas, in 2005. Albee himself died on September 16, 2016.

© Michael Cox

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
3rd May to 3rd Jun, 2017

Thursday, 01 September 2016 09:27

“Let them come to Berlin.” - John F Kennedy

After World War II, the West and the East found themselves in perpetual conflict. Nuclear annihilation hung over the world, and governments worked tirelessly for supremacy over important regions. Most of these conflicts played out, not on the battlefields, but in the shadows, and if there was one thing those in power craved more than anything it was information.

The Cold War was fought through the intelligence bureaus. Assets who could supply information became invaluable, and governments would do whatever they could to tap into their opposition’s intelligence. Agents and moles were everywhere, and the information they provided allowed governments to be steps ahead of their opponent.

Every major city was on the political chessboard, but no place was more important in the running of spy games during the Cold War than Berlin.

Friday, 19 August 2016 12:39

Willy Brandt: Profile

Willy Brandt was a German left-wing politician whose life was filled with drama. Working with the Resistance during the Nazi regime, he fled Germany—living in numerous countries—before returning to embark on a remarkable political career. His policies caused worldwide ripples, earning him the respect of both the people and other world leaders. He was named Time Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ in 1970, and in 1971 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Early Life

Born Karl Herbert Frahm on 18 December 1913, Brandt seemed destined for a political life from the beginning. His political awareness was activated by his grandfather, leading him to have left-wing views that opposed the political culture that was dominating Germany. He would join the Social Democratic Party (SDP) but would leave a year later, joining instead the Socialist Workers Party in protest to the SDP’s compromises with the Nazis.

He travelled internationally, usually taking up leftist causes, and would eventually be forced to flee to Norway, where he increased his political activities. He worked as a journalist— under the name ‘Willy Brandt’. In 1936 he returned to Germany to help support a doomed Resistance plot to undermine the Nazis. His German citizenship was revoked in 1938, and when Hitler invaded Norway in 1940 he fled again—this time to Sweden, where he worked as a writer and as a lecturer.

Friday, 12 August 2016 12:32

Colin McCredie Interview

Michael Cox: Let’s talk about Democracy. Had you heard of the play before?

Colin McCredie: No, I hadn’t heard of it. I hadn’t seen it, so obviously that’s quite good, coming to it fresh. I’d been interested in the recent Deutschland 83 and I’d watched Bridge of Spies—the Spielberg film last year—as well. After watching those I’d looked up a few articles on the East/West German spy thing. It was a period I was quite interested in.

It’s just amazing that, in your lifetime—25 years ago—these changes all happened. It’s almost like a parallel universe: the Wall, the Eastern and Western Block, Berlin being split in two. I’ve been to Berlin since the Wall came down. It’s mental that this happened. And the drama within all that, the politics, are really interesting. It makes for a really good drama.

Friday, 05 August 2016 15:28

Michael Frayn: Profile

Michael Frayn is an acclaimed playwright, journalist and novelist. As a playwright, he has won numerous prestigious awards, including the Tony, the London Evening Standard and the Olivier.

His work in theatre actually began as a child—writing scripts and acting at school and at home. His interest initially grew in his time at Cambridge, where he joined the famed Footlights. It is here, however, where he soured on theatre. While acting in a production of The Government Inspector, he was prevented from making an exit due to a stuck door. He was further traumatised when the Footlights revue he wrote was deemed a failure and became the first in that company’s history to not transfer to London.

Turning away from the stage, Frayn became a journalist, first writing for the Guardian and then the Observer as a columnist. His work at the Guardian included reviewing plays—a job that allowed him to take revenge on theatre by allowing him to focus on all the mistakes he saw onstage. However, his work as a columnist afforded him the opportunity to travel the world.

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