The iconic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has returned to London in a West End revival directed by James MacDonald. The Harold Pinter Theatre plays host to Edward Albee’s 1962 play about a marriage on the verge of breakdown, mixing illusion and reality to bring a new meaning to the word tense.
The tale, in three acts, sees the daughter of a College president and her husband return home from a faculty party, shortly followed by their invited guests, a young married couple recently settled in the New England town. As the night progresses, into the early hours of the morning, glaring flaws in each marriage become apparent as the older couple play more and more manipulative games with their guests, and each other.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the few shows in the West End that does not rely on lavish and complex scene changes, though the simple set is intricately laid out. There are no vast special effects, breath-taking quick-changes or ground-breaking musical scores to hide behind. Instead four actors hold the audience, tightly gripped, for almost three hours in what can only be described as a theatrical masterpiece.
Imelda Staunton, as Martha, delivers an emotionally draining and gut wrenching performance. Displaying a roller coaster of emotions, all of which are etched in her face and expressed vividly in her voice and body language. It’s impossible not to be completely in awe of this character actress at work.
Conleth Hill playing George, evokes everything from sympathy to outrage to pure hatred. Individually their performances are stunning, together they are indescribable. I think I scarcely drew breath in the final thirty minutes, totally captivated by every syllable uttered.
Luke Treadaway dazzles in the role of Nick and is well supported by Imogen Poots as Honey. Their performances stand as strong as their co-stars, making this one incredible ensemble. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? shows that a classic play can still have a home in the West End, especially when it’s filled with such a fine cast and staged so beautifully.