Glass reviews … Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Harold Pinter Theatre

EDWARD Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf  is a play that takes no prisoners. Making an absolute racket is the very point of Albee’s piece. Whether you’ve heard about its iconic characters, studied it at school or watched the cult 1966 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, it is a play that certainly makes an impact. Mix this with bold direction from James Macdonald, famous for premiering Sarah Kane’s Blasted at the Royal Court and you’ve got a real recipe for theatre fireworks. It is truly a battleground from start to finish, making it an absolute dream for actors to fire their weapons. And my word, they do.

Story picture Imelda Staunton in Edward AlbeesImelda Staunton in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Photograph: Johan Persson

The play takes place in three nerve-wracking acts and in the space of about eight hours in a New England university campus home. Martha and George, trapped in a sour marriage that feels more like a warzone than a relationship, welcome some late night visitors in the form of young couple, Nick and Honey. The audience witness as the night unravels, booze fuelled and acid tongued as Martha and George throw insult after insult at each other, dragging their guests headfirst into wicked games like Get the Guests and Bringing up Baby.

Story image 3 Luke Treadaway and Imogen Poots-in-Edward-Albees Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Photograph: Johan PerssonLuke Treadaway and Imogen Poots in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Photograph: Johan Persson

With equivalent gusto and terror as her latest theatre role in Gypsy, Imelda Staunton as Martha is truly phenomenal. Giving what can only be described an acting master class; Staunton commands the stage, exhibiting the initial monstrous qualities of Martha, right through to her vulnerability and heartache in the final scenes. You can’t hate her despite her wicked quips and nasty bites at her henpecked husband: “I swear if you existed I’d divorce you”, because she’ll break your heart and make you laugh hysterically at the same time.

Conleth Hill and Imelda Staunton in Edward AlbeesConleth Hill and Imelda Staunton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Photograph: Johan Persson

But this is by no means a solo triumph as Conleth Hill is a brilliantly cast and shrewdly acted George, proving to be a mean match for Staunton’s Martha. He delivers George’s lines with such quick wit and understated sarcasm that bounce beautifully off Imelda. The dynamic between them is unpredictable, tumultuous and glorious, keeping the audience eating out of the palm of their hands.

Story picture 7 Luke Treadaway in Edward AlbeesLuke Treadaway in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Photograph: Johan Persson

Luke Treadaway, who is better known for playing more ethereal characters, isn’t obviously cast as uppity dullard, Nick, but he delivers the role with convincing cockiness and sleaze. He is complemented wonderfully by Imogen Poots as Honey in her West End debut. She balances Honey’s naivety and gawkiness with an intense vulnerability, as we watch her reflect on a hysterical pregnancy and the intense feelings of guilt and sadness which came as a result of this.

Story picture 4 Imogen Poots in Edward-Albees-Imogen Poots in in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Photograph: Johan Persson

Edward Albee’s black comedy still packs a pretty blazing punch over 50 years later and it is a joy to be reminded of his genius use of the English language in the modern day. As audiences consider themselves more and more hardened to vulgarity and “un-shockable”, it is glorious to witness audible gasps, stunned silences and nervous laughs in the Harold Pinter theatre during this production. This will certainly go down in history as one of the most notable revivals of a truly seminal play.

by Heather Doughty

All photographs: Johan Persson

@WhosAfraidLDN @hpintertheatre @LukeTreadaway

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is on at the Harold Pinter Theatre until May 27, 2017
Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton St, London SW1Y 4DN
Tel: 0844 871 7627