As you depart the Harold Pinter Theatre and a performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, you feel exhausted. Not because this play is a little over three hours long, but thanks to its magnitude, brilliance and totally unforgiving nature. It is, to understate somewhat, a mental rollercoaster of mind games. But here in the hands of this fine foursome, it rises to a whole new level of brilliance. Actually, scrap brilliance, it’s fucking incredible!
With the show making headlines by requesting audience members don’t eat during the performance, we’re not quite sure when such a thing could happen. Does a time come for a quick snack and a wandering mind? If there is, we certainly missed it. This is electric stuff, and sweets aren’t needed to get you to the end.
This Edward Albee revival, set in 1962 in New Carthage, follows the exposure of ruthless day-to-day troubles that have eaten mature pair George (Conleth Hill) and Martha (Imelda Staunton) up. With young couple Nick (Luke Treadaway) and Honey (Imogen Poots) joining them for a post-party nightcap, what follows is a twisting of mind games. It’s this complete fuckery that leaves you struggling to decide which side you’re on. With him? With her? With neither.
James Macdonald’s production leaves little to find in your mind. With every emotion and wretch seen and heard, this isn’t a show with a happy narrative. Its intention is to shock, and it hits the mark in doing so. Such success is down to the capable hands of Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill’s unforgiving nature throughout. Paired perfectly, their jabs and bites land on each other with every cunning desire to hurt the other deep inside their heart. Physically demanding for both and with lengthy ongoing scenes of quick-fire dialogue, this is no child’s game. George and Martha explode into a rocket of theatrical beauty; heart and soul bared for all.
Youthful guests Nick and Honey might fall under the shadow of their counterparts, but match ideally in excellence. With the troubles of their relationship slowing bubbling, you feel somewhat spoilt with this foursome together, and yet bask in its glory. If this was the Olympics for theatre, this is your winning team.
Tom Pye’s design frames the revival ideally, masking what was once a beautiful home with a sense of sadness glazed over it. A stoned wall stands above an open fireplace and blocks of fallen books; crying to meet their end to escape the unhappy horrors of this household. The fixed design of this household ideal to keep your attention rightfully on these characters.
We ask so often for theatre to shake our core and burn our heart. This frighteningly good production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? hits the mark on every occasion. So much so, in fact, we’ve not stop speaking about it since leaving the theatre. Bask in the joys of four magnificent performances all under one roof while you can. A piece of theatre as special as this doesn’t come around that often.
GT gives Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Harold Pinter Theatre – 5/5
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 27 May, 2017.