Vicious, vindictive and vitriolic.
“George and Martha, sad, sad, sad”.-Martha
In the early hours of the morning after an evening of drinking, George and Martha stumble home. It sounds like the end; it’s only the beginning. Here, they await the arrival of Nick and Honey, a new young teacher and his wife. Martha’s idolised father has asked them to welcome the couple to the University, and what a welcome they give.
Strap yourselves in because you are in for one hell of a ride.
A ride that has only four actors, lasts three hours, with just two intervals and one setting.
There is the danger with Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf that it could play out one of two catastrophic ways. It could swiftly turn horrifically melodramatic in a bid to recreate Burton and Taylor. Or that to an audience in 2017 it could be interpreted as, dear I say it, dull?
I mean after all, we’re all too numbed by mainstream media and popular culture to find a couple of middle age types tearing one another apart interesting… aren’t we?
Turns out we’re not.
What struck me the most about this particular revival was the complete and utter plausibility of it all.
Conleth Hill’s George is disappointment personified and Martha’s crippling insults seem to have literally weighed him down over the years, resulting in his hunched and sunken posture. He’s clearly intelligent, and quick witted too, but in this performance there is a definite emotional exhaustion to George which seems to keep his bite at bay.
Until, of course, she goes too far.
“Some day, hah! Some night, some stupid, liquor-ridden night, I will go too far and I’ll either break the man’s back or I’ll push him off for good which is what I deserve”- Martha
Only then do we see that snap within George and the boxing gloves, well and truly come off.
Martha (Imelda Staunton) on the other hand, is all guns blazing from the get go. She’s had a drink and she’s gunning for a fight, and Georgie boy’s refusal to give her one is just further ammunition.
Even at just 5 ft tall, Staunton commands and absurd amount of stage presence. Her Martha is unapologeticly ugly, not in looks, (I hope I look that fabulous in skin tight trousers and a sheer black top at 61) but in actions. She doesn’t even flinch as the most vile remarks fly out of her mouth at George and short of being embarrassed, actually relishes having the audience of Honey and Nick. Like a dog with a bone she refuses to give up the fight and hounds George to the point of no return.
What Staunton also brings however, is an earth shattering sadness. Martha is no doubt a troubled and sad woman, but Staunton not only brings you to the point of pity, but with extreme ease, she really breaks your heart.
As for the unwitting audience of Nick and Honey. For me, Nick was perfection. With his constant hair smoothing and belt adjusting, Luke Treadway hit “Smug son of a bitch, who is disgusting on principal” right on the head.
My one wish would be for Imogen Poots to have been given more of a chance to shine. A large chunk of Honey was cut leaving her character fairly one dimensional, however even given this she did extraordinarily well at simperingly silly.
At the end of the show you’re left to question a great deal regarding relationships and the way in which we keep them alive.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ It’s not an easy watch, but it is an exhilarating one.
*Special thanks to the lovely people at boxoffice.co.uk for the tickets!
Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf is running until 27th May, you can book your tickets here