This week I went up to the West End to see the matinee of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf starring Imelda Staunton. I’m not sure what I was expecting, in fact all I knew in advance was that the performance was three hours long – which slightly put the kibosh on my post-play afternoon tea plans. I’ve never seen the Liz Taylor and Richard Burton movie and hadn’t read any reviews of this new production – that the play was about a dysfunctional marriage was about the extent of my knowledge – and as a divorcee that is what had caught my attention! But after three whole hours, yes that’s right three whole hours, of drama, tension, discomfort, shock and admittedly some laughter (especially in the first act) I left the Harold Pinter Theatre exhausted, and if I’m honest, slightly traumatised. It also me glad to be divorced due to the toxicity of the marriage (which let’s face it is never a positive thing to celebrate).
First things first, Imelda Staunton is amazing in the lead role of Martha (although – and it pains me to say it – I do think she was about 6 years too old for the part…) and the rest of the cast were equally brilliant. She’s acerbic, sharp, coy, lustful, vengeful, sexy, frightening, nasty, and everything else in between. Her husband George is also brilliantly played by Conleth Hill, however he also is a few too years old for the part. But their marriage is believable, uncomfortable, toxic, and together they are perfectly cast. The poor young couple that they invite back for late-night drinks are also fantastically acted – Imogen Poots as the sozzled Honey – is particularly brilliant at playing a drunk.
The basic story is that a desperately unhappy middle aged couple – him a history professor at the local New England university, her the daughter of the university’s president – invite a newly wed couple (him a newly appointed lecturer at the same university, her his rather sweet and ineffectual wife) back to theirs for post-party drinks. As the evening progresses and the drinks continue to flow the marital angst and brutal tirades between the older couple get fiercer and fiercer, and the young couple gradually get dragged down into the mess.
Act one is bursting with comedy as well as incredibly tense moments, act two definitely takes a much darker turn, and by act 3 the tension on stage was so stressful that I was willing it to end! However that aside I would certainly recommend going to see Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf before the run finishes at the end of May – but be warned – it is certainly not a feel-good play.