Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf runs at Harold Pinter Theatre until 27th March 2017, to book tickets click here: Harold Pinter Theatre Box Office
Star rating: ****
Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf is a play I am extremely familiar with, yet I have never seen a production of it until now. The role of Martha has been taken on by many strong actresses during its various incarnations and news that Imelda Staunton would play her was not surprising. Given her strength for playing fiery, damaged women, she seemed a natural choice. I am happy to report that she was everything I hoped that she would be and more in this highly coveted role.
The story centres around George (Conleth Hill) and Martha who have returned home in the wee small hours after a party thrown by Martha’s eminent father. Martha has taken to heart her father’s suggestion that she and George are nice to a couple who are new to the area and the college of which he is President of and where George is an associate Professor of History. Therefore, the couple in question, Nick (Luke Treadaway) and Honey (Imogen Poots) dutifully knock on the door at around 2am for an after-party. They’re a fairly benign couple, in stark contrast to Martha and George who have already been hurling hurtful insults at one another prior to the arrival of their guests and are in the middle of another slanging match when the front door is opened. As the consumption of alcohol is picked up from where it was left off, it becomes clear that George and Martha enjoy playing games, not a board game or charades, though. They take delight in slating each other, violently at times and then backing one another up. The young couple are privy to and dragged into the damaged relationship of their hosts and the consequences are cringe-worthy to say the least.
Staunton is undoubtedly steering this ship, she is a power-house on stage and I saw a portion of every role she’s ever played put into her portrayal of Martha. The result was an astoundingly haunting and sensational performance, somehow I feel that she will need a new trophy cabinet at home, soon! Conleth Hill played George as a downtrodden has-been or never-was and there was a sinister side that I felt he brought to the surface with regularity. There were frequent laugh out loud moments provided by Hill, especially in act one, and I wasn’t expecting to be laughing. Nervous laughter, maybe but not belly laughter. Imogen Poots was aptly sweet as Honey, who has a sickly disposition and I was impressed by her performance, given that this is her west end debut. Honey is a character that could blend into the background but I was drawn to her and watched her reactions when others were in the ‘spotlight’. Luke Treadaway wasn’t as strong as I had predicted he would be, as Nick, I didn’t feel that there was enough dominance in his performance, especially when the action called for it. I enjoyed the chemistry that he had with Poots, though.
The static set was atmospheric and the space lent itself to such a physically active and demonstrative piece. It’s key to my engagement when I stop thinking of a set as part of the staging, testimony to the designer, too.
It’s a piece of theatre that works on many levels and I feel confident that the cast will become more solid, collectively as the run progresses. It’s a fierce, fiery piece which should grab you by the throat and with Staunton at the helm, I can testify (in my humble opinion) that this is the case with this production. Catch her on the West End stage before Broadway nabs her for Gypsy next year!
Photo Credits: Johan Persson