Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Harold Pinter Theatre, 19th April 2017
So I came quite late, as is my wont, to this particular party for one reason and another. There is still a month to go on the run though and this is definitely worth seeing. Though it still looks like you will have to pay an arm and a leg to get a decent stalls seat, and if you go for cheaper options upstairs, you risk losing an arm or a leg in this most uncomfortable theatre.
But it is very, very good. You know the story. Martha and George invite their new neighbour/colleague(s) back to their house after a boozy party and then all four keep drinking. And Martha and George kick seven bells our of each other verbally dragging their new “friends” into the carnage. Everything that is wrong with their lives, and the root causes thereof, pours out in a torrent of dextrous abuse which leaves them and us reeling. Marvellous, and cathartic, stuff.
Now all the reviews harp on about Imelda Staunton’s performance as Martha which is, to be fair, breathtaking – vicious, sexy, vulnerable, sometimes all in the same line. Yet I think the real star of the show is Conleth Hill as George. George and Martha are yoked together by their shared sorrow, fears and frustrations but to watch Mr Hill show this man of immense intelligence reduced to analysing his own vindictive barbs even as he delivers them is a masterclass of acting. Luke Treadaway and Imogen Poots as guests/victims, Nick and Honey, are also superbly on point – it seems only the passage of time separates them from a fate comparable to George and Martha. And there is a reason why Caryl Churchill trusts her treasured texts with director James Macdonald – he knows when to just trust the writer, as he does here perfectly.
There are times I confess where, for the briefest of moments, I wish for a lighter tone/turn, just some salvation, to emerge, but then Mr Albee’s lines are just so delicious that you just keep on willing the slugfest on. As I think do George and Martha. Oh and I can’t really see all this state of the nation parallel stuff that others read into this.
George and Martha. Can’t live with em, can’t live without em. And a reminder to take it easy on the hard stuff.
Next up Mr Albee’s goat.