Three Tall Women

‘Three Tall Women’ was crafted by the Virginian playwright, Edward Albee. Albee, who died about 6 years ago aged 88, wrote plays packed with turmoil and strong characters. His most famous was ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’, and the most destructive – and my personal favourite – ‘The Goat’. His absurdist writings were based very much on his own miserable life as a gay. Most of his better-known works, were written in the 1960s, then he dried up. For a time, he was mocked as a has-been and then 25 years later this powerful play was released.

First staged in the early 1990s when Albee directed it himself. The play was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1994, however, it was a further quarter of a century before it reached Broadway, when it won a prestigious Tony award.

This wonderful and powerful production of ‘Three Tall Women’ can be seen at The Garrick Theatre, 16 Meadow Street in Guildford. Curtain up at 7.30 each Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening until the 21st. with Sunday matinées at 2.00 pm on the 8th and 15th May.

Show Warnings: This show contains adult and sexual content and is not suitable for younger audiences.

The Scene:           The master bedroom in a wealthy American home.

The Set: The imposing design and construction were by Jake Newby. The bedroom had matte black walls that helped set off the bright furnishings. The wall behind the bed was wood panelling. To the left was a window overlooking the garden. The walls displayed two 16th century Botticelli art works, one being the Birth of Venus.

The room had a cane and rattan settee and chair. The seats had red velour drapes around the legs, gold and red scatter cushions. A queen size, Huon sleigh bed was central stage, and had matching red and gold soft furnishings. There were bedside tables and a wooden blanket box at the end of the bed.

In an unusual move, the set for Act 2 was the same bedroom but had rotated 180 degrees. Now we saw the room from over the bedhead. The bed had now been replaced by a white hospital style bed.

These striking props were supplied by Marion West.

Lighting design:                Jake Newby had spots to pick out the actors for their monologues. The lamp temperatures were warm to hint at the 1950s era. This fine lighting design was operated by Caileb Holmbergen Crute, who faded the room lighting smoothly to give further atmosphere.

Stage manager:                Graeme Dick and his assistant Kailem Mollard had a huge scene change during the interval

The characters do not have names, indicative of Madam’s supercilious attitude to those around her.

In the bedroom of a wealthy, powerful, and almost despotic 92 yrs. old woman (Kerry Goode) recalls the mistakes and missed opportunities in her life.  Her tolerant but cynical 52 yrs. old, live-in companion (Jenny Howard) stays with her employer studying the old dear’s tricks and humouring her. The confidante helps the old lady cope with her ‘personal’ everyday life.

A self-assured 26 yrs. old lawyer (Victoria Abbott) with an abundance of common sense, is called in to help with the massive backlog of paperwork. Thanks to the old lady’s long-winded storytelling, she mainly listens, rarely getting a word in edgewise and thinking ‘I hope I never end up like this!’.

Act Two starts with a mannequin in the old lady’s bed. The Boy (Kailem Mollard – well done), who does not speak, is the adoptive (?) son of one woman but is the centre of all their attention, comes to sit next to the mannequin.

There follows a change of interaction between the three women that brings a new aspect of life in the house.

This play has plenty of Albee’s black comedy, but there are passages whilst really cause the audience emotional discomfort as Albee takes us through our own lives and the many locked boxes that we all have but won’t admit to.

The smart hairstyles, sumptuous costume designs and general wardrobe were created and supervised by WAAPA trained Kathryn Wackett. Excellent.

Director Siobhán Vincent is recognised as a superb actor, who is well deserving of her substantial number of acting awards. Siobhán has also won multiple directing awards over the years, but now faced with such a psychologically and emotionally packed play this tale calls upon all those skills learned over decades to present the full depth of Albee’s complex play. I have seen other Albee plays where the audience would comment ‘That was good’ having got the gist but having missed the real meaning of the play. In this Siobhán, along with the skills of an exceptional cast, has dragged the heart and guts out of the text and exposed the warped and tragic lives of the group. Siobhán’s most capable director’s assistant and script assistant was Marion West.

Double Oscar winning Maggie Smith played the 90 yrs. old woman twice, the first time at the age of only 60 yrs., an age when many people start to find themselves standing in front of the fridge wondering ‘What did I come for?’ Each actor had around 15 minutes of demanding monologue. Kerry is nearer the character’s age than 60 years so her performance of the major challenge in the first Act and blew everyone away. She had to describe one of her failures in life, and with the mild American accent, perfect enunciation and pace she powerfully delivered a very tricky piece immaculately. Her complex and rapidly changing emotions were perfectly displayed by her body and face; she broke down in tears a couple of times. A truly heart-breaking performance, the best I have seen in many years, and I don’t say this lightly, seriously magnificent.

Jennie and Victoria were magnificent too, with matching accents and terrific delivery. Their feelings of love, admiration and patience were mixed with anger and even downright hate of the old lady at times. With Victoria as a young girl enjoying her life and Jennie in middle age, the chemistry was amazing. Congratulations to the director, all the cast and technicians.

This was a special night in the theatre. If you appreciate two hours of pure quality dialogue and top rate acting, then don’t miss this outstanding play.