Absolute Perfection: Imelda Staunton in Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? at the Harold Pinter

I first discovered Edward Albee's 1962 Tony Award-winning masterpiece when I was 12 years old after I saw a copy of the text at a car boot sale and bought it for 5p. The copy was annotated heavily and I read every word and annotation like a priest would read his Bible and from that moment, I fell deeply and madly in love with the magic of this stunning play.

And I'm not alone in my passion for this piece. The play not only won the Tony Award for Best New Play but was voters' favourite for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year (because of bad language, subject matter and for many other reasons, they were forced to change their decision, but my point still stands). It's a powerful play about life and marriage and in a strange way, it terrifies you for life and makes you excited about it in equal measure. It's cool, classy and addictive and it's a play I defy anyone to see and not love.

Imelda Staunton as Martha and Conleth Hill and George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I've been dreaming of seeing a production of this play for a long while now and my ideal Martha was always my favourite stage actress Imelda Staunton. Looks like my dream came true! Staunton was born to play Martha and she gives the acting performance of her life, a hard feat when you were already Imelda Staunton to begin with. The character is incredibly complex and multi-faceted but she clearly knows this character so intrinsically well that you can see her unpeeling the layers as the play progresses through its three acts. Her Martha is nuanced, witty and complicated in equal measure; Staunton's performance is so well realised and well-understood that it floors me.

Staunton isn't the only star in this production though. In fact, I applaud the casting director from Sonia Friedman Productions for managing to pull together not only the most talented cast around, but also the most appropriate for the piece. I have never seen Conleth Hill act in anything other than Game of Thrones but my God is he a fantastic George here. Hill suits the role of George so well that it was the most convinced by a performance that I have ever been in my life. His vulnerability is laid bare on that stage every night and his chemistry with Staunton is remarkable. The two of them are a pair to be reckoned with; one of the best pairings - if not the best pairing - I have ever seen.

Luke Treadaway as Nick and Imogen Poots as Honey in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Imogen Poots and Luke Treadaway play Honey and Nick respectively, the young couple who join Martha and George for a night of drinking. I've always seen Honey and Nick as completely passive characters in comparison to Martha and George but Poots and Treadaway changed that for me completely. Both of them give performances so strong that all I could think was "I can't wait for them to play Martha and George in 30 years time". Poots plays drunk in the least cringeworthy and most convincing way since Denise Gough in People, Places and Things with a heart and voice that melts like butter on your soul. And Treadaway plays the confident young man that I never realised Nick was. They're both stars and are equally as talented as the other pairing.

The design of this production is insanely good as well. Tom Pye has put Martha and George in the most stunning 50s house I have ever seen. In fact, at the end of the show, I went and stood at the front of the stalls for a solid ten minutes looking at how well realised everything was. There is not a detail left untouched in that house and it goes to show that a simple, un-changing set can be just as powerful as a massive and impressive one. It's a design that I hope isn't forgotten at next year's awards season.

Martha and Nick dance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Adam Cork's sound design and music for the piece added to the general aesthetic of this production perfectly. I haven't seen a play that has as much character to its revival in such a long time; the piece hasn't been reimagined in any way at all, but it somehow feels so unique and fresh in its presentation that it makes me want to live in a world that is designed like it. Everything about it is stunning. Charles Balfour's lighting design adds to it beautifully as well with the closing scene when the sun rises being so powerfully lit in such an effective way that even I felt that dank, seeing-the-sun-rise feeling as well. Absolutely fantastic.

Of course, kudos has to go to Edward Albee's incredible play here, but we also have to applaud the incredible James Macdonald for his sublime direction as well. I cannot imagine that there is anything much more difficult than directing a three hour real-time play set in the same room, but Macdonald does it with such ease that the lasting effect is effortless. It is direction that is so precise and so minute that you don't even think about the fact that the actors have been told to move where and when; I'm astounded by how much this play moves despite it never physically moving anywhere at all. I see a Best Director nod going his way as well.

Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill in the opening of Albee's landmark play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

If you can't tell already, I think this revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is truly one of the best revivals of a play we have seen in the past five years. If you miss out on this production then you are a fool. Now I can't wait to see it a few more times, with one of them being twice in one day. Yes, it really is so good that I can sit through six hours of it in the same day. Go and see it.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre through May 27th. Tickets are available right here.

No comments