Despite being a regular theatregoer, there are still some classic plays that I have yet to see on stage and this famous one by Edward Albee was one of them. With such an exciting cast, I had been looking forward to seeing this one for quite a while.
It is set in the 1960s, in the home of Martha and George. George is a History professor at the local college, of which Martha’s father happens to be the dean (a fact she continually loves to rub in George’s face). After yet another faculty party, Martha has invited the newest young Biology professor Nick and his wife home for a nightcap, much to George’s dismay. Over the course of three Acts, we observe the game-playing between husband and wife, in which their guests become unwitting pawns in their vicious attacks on each other.
Imelda Staunton is utterly incredible as Martha, reminding audiences that it isn’t just musicals in which she can bring the house down (if you saw either Sweeney Todd or Gypsy, you’ll know what I mean)! It’s an incredibly intense play to watch, with the majority of that intensity resting with Staunton and Conleth Hill (you may recognise him for playing Varys in Game of Thrones) and they play off each other brilliantly. Theirs is a marriage that seems to have been built on years of battling. They needle each other, fighting to be the victor. Martha is horribly cruel to George, pointing out how muc of a disappointment he is and how she’d hoped for better and yet as the night goes on, we see that, after years of such games, George is just as capable of pulling the emotional rug out from under her. Interestingly, despite the awful way they seem to treat each other, there is also clearly a strong bond of affection underneath, with their cruelty disturbingly holding them together, while simultaneously threatening to destroy them.
What I loved most about this play is that it’s also incredibly funny, much more so than I expected. There’s something darkly entertaining about watching Martha and George tear shreds off each other and some of the sharp, biting dialogue has you laughing out loud, even as you grow more and more uncomfortable. I can imagine it’s easy to overdo the dramatics in this play and yet director James Macdonald’s production doesn’t do this. In fact, in a frightening way, it feels very believable. There are also strong supporting performances from Luke Treadaway, the latest young man to catch Martha’s fancy and watching Staunton flirt so sexily with him was great fun, and also from Imogen Poots, who pulls off playing Treadaway’s young, naive wife.
I loved this production and it will certainly be one of my highlights of the year, due to the truly superb performances. I’ve been slow posting this review, but you still have until Saturday to see it, so hurry up and get booking!
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until Saturday. TodayTix has a great deal each morning for twenty pounds day seats, which I highly recommend. I was on the front row, which was a bargain!