Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? review - March 2017

an explosion that never fully erupts

There’s something irrationally irresistible about Edward Albee’s blistering play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which makes any marital dispute dim in comparison. Packed full of punch, both literally and figuratively, the play is the perfect star vehicle, in this case driven by powerhouse Imelda Staunton.

Ever-present in our minds as the iconic film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the play sees Martha and George host late-night drinks for a young couple. Both out to get each other, the night is an unyielding barrage of games, tricks and fierce insults. It’s wicked.

Staunton is a relentless Martha; completely unforgiving, twisted and yet unwittingly vulnerable. She bites, kicks and screams – it’s an exhausting performance for both her and us. Conleth Hill as George is a revelation, combining calm one-liners with a subtle manipulative air. There’s attractive support from Imogen Poots as the endearing Honey and a wooden and unaffectionate Nick in Luke Treadaway.

It’s a wordy play, divided by two intervals to keep the audience on their toes. James Macdonald’s direction does little to keep the electricity flowing, as sofas and chairs make the action much too static for such fiery dialogue. Tom Pye’s dormant set provides the perfect hunting ground for the unsatisfied Martha.

It’s undoubtedly an unforgettable pairing with the lead actors, but there’s little release for the amount of tension built up. The play itself is bleak and jarring, constantly teetering on an explosion that never fully erupts. Listening to three hours of shouting, however impressive, can become rather repetitive.

Reviewed by Susannah Rose Martin.
9 March 2017, Harold Pinter Theatre