Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf review
Credit : Johan Persson 

There are plays that are legendary and roles that have become iconic, making them feel impossible to reinterpret.

The lacerating portrayal of George and his brash alcoholic wife Martha in Mike Nichols’ 1966 film by real life hard drinking, on/off couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was a work of perfect genius.

Surely this is impossible to equal? Watch and learn though. James Macdonald’s version is as close to perfection as can be and the assembly of a sublime script, a clutch of multi-award actors and a notable director have created something breath taking and rare.

Have you ever had one of those nights where you’ve had too much to drink and end up holed up with one of those bickering couples who are determined to emotionally swipe at each other? Meet George and Martha: a middle-aged failed author, college lecturer and his drunken wife, daughter of the head of the college. New to the campus are Nick and Honey. He’s a prime piece of beef, a precocious high achiever in his late twenties with a mousy wife who can’t handle her drink. It’s way after midnight and the drinks are flowing. Let the games commence.

Openly gay playwright Edward Albee was often asked about theories that the two couples in the play are based on gay men. He rubbished these claims and stated that had he wished to write about gay men then he would have done so. Whatever his intention this is a funny, painful play. Whether taken at face value as a play about relationships or as something deeper about the state of America or humanity, it’s a marathon at three hours long, but that’s worth taking part in in one and is as joyful as it is visceral. As the couples take bites out of each other the one-liners flow and the comedy morphs into something more painful and ultimately illustrates something touching and tender.

Macdonald has captured more of the comedy in the piece than in some versions and Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill are pitch perfect actors. Luke Treadway manages a fine depiction of cocky male confidence and it would be remiss of me not to mention his equally fine buttocks that he moves to strong effect. Imogen Poots is endearing as Honey. Their iconic roles and hard for an actor to make his or her own but the team manage this with aplomb.

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This is theatre at its finest. Go and see it now. It’s not often something this hot comes to town.

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf plays at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 27th May 2017