Review of 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf'


Imelda Staunton makes a strong return to the London stage with this adaptation of Edward Albee's “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” We really enjoyed her in the musical Gypsy a few years ago with an incredibly powerful performance so when tickets became available we immediately picked them up. Staunton is a master of the stage performing her characters with complete conviction and here she does not disappoint.

The play begins with Martha (Imelda Staunton) and her husband George (Conleth Hill) returning home from a social event at the University that George works at and where Martha's father is University president. It is very late at night but Martha tells an incredulous (and exhausted) George that she has invited a young couple to join them for a party. Nick (Luke Treadaway) and his wife Honey (Imogen Poots) show up a short time later and as the alcohol starts flowing so does the conversation. It is immediately obvious that the extremely vocal Martha is not happy with her husband's lack of success at the university. Despite being in the History department for many years he still does not lead it. Martha and George trade barbs at one another much to the embarrassment of their guests. Honey, it turns out, is from a wealthy family and is a primary reason why Nick was attracted to her. She is a bit of a delicate flower unable to hold her alcohol and prone to vomiting spells which promptly manifests itself at the party. Nick is a young, attractive and ambitious professor in the Biology department at the university who is determined to progress despite the George's warnings to leave before the University sucks his life out of him. When Martha starts talking of their son who is soon to be 21 years old George is caught off guard and the conversation takes a turn for the nasty where uncomfortable truths are revealed.

This play explores the various “games” that people play, here the games between Martha and George as they use these games to shield themselves from the depressing reality of their lives. A reality where the ambition of youth is replaced with the soul-sapping complacency of middle age. Martha continuously harangues George about his lack of ambition while George returns in kind with barbs regarding Martha's drinking and nasty nature. Under all of this conversation is the uncomfortable truth that both are failures and live sad, depressing lives.

Staunton is once again in fine form putting on an frighteningly convincing performance as the bitter Martha but also of note is Conleth Hill as George who is perfectly able to counter his wife and dish out the barbs himself. As George his chilling act of disinterest in his wife's infidelity or, indeed, her feelings is played out horrifyingly on the stage. The dialogue and wit often flies thick and fast which could only be attempted by accomplished actors such as Staunton and Hill.

Poots and Treadaway as the older, bitter, couple's younger visitors are quite flat as characters serving largely as a backdrop to the bitterness between George and Martha so there is not much for these actors to work with. I can't say I was terribly impressed by Poots as Honey - Her American accent was not great and jarred whenever it was used. Treadaway as Nick was a bit more convincing but, again, neither actor have a lot to work with in these roles. I have to say the scene with Nick and Martha “dirty dancing” made more than a few people in the audience squirm as Staunton and Treadaway really got into the thing and Honey's “interpretive dance” bizarrely surreal and performed with glee by Poots.

The three hour play is split into three acts “Fun and Games”, “Walpurgisnacht” and “The Exorcism” taking place over the course of the evening/early morning as the drama unfolds powerfully on the stage. Often the play is difficult to watch and it is never entirely clear what is reality and what is game. This is not a fun and happy play but it is very compelling and spellbinding to watch particularly with this wonderful cast.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2017-03-03

Harold Pinter Theatre

Location: London (England)

Address: Panton Street, London SW1Y 4DN ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Piccadilly Circus TUBE Leicester Square

Telephone: +44 (0) 844 871 7622


Formerly the “Royal Comedy Theatre”, the Harold Pinter Theatre is located just to the south-east of Piccadilly Circus off of Haymarket. The foyer is small and crowded and the theatre is looking a bit tatty but it is still has a bit of the old charm. There is a side entrance for circle and balcony ticket holders.