This is truly exceptional theatre that will stay with you for a long time, such is the power of the raw, animalistic performances. It’s harrowing, brilliantly funny, devastating, ferocious and at three hours long will leave you exhausted.
Middle-aged couple George (Conleth Hill) and Martha (Imelda Staunton) arrive home in the early hours from a university faculty party. Unbeknownst to George, Martha has invited over a younger couple Nick (Luke Treadaway) and Honey (Imogen Poots) who arrive shortly after. What follows is a booze-soaked breakdown of George and Martha’s marriage, using the unwitting younger couple as both spectators and participants. Even fifty years on, this emotional blood bath is terrifying to behold.
Staunton is a pocket rocket and gives a performance of astonishing power. She vibrates and sizzles with an energy that fills the theatre. The laughter comes thick and fast, however her tirade of abuse towards her husband leaves you sick to the stomach. Her pain and rage at being ignored by George is agonising to watch as she prowls, brawls, laughs and practically salivates out of sheer desperation. Her breakdown is heartbreaking. As she lies on the floor spent, her fight gone, with no armour, she reveals a vulnerability and child-like quality that is deeply affecting.
As George, Hill matches Staunton note for note. Seeing them together is like watching a dance, each knowing when to lead, when to follow, both working together in perfect harmony and with absolute trust. Hill embodies the disappointment of life and the pain of his marriage yet he is no victim. He possesses a quiet menace and cruelty that is chilling.
With the smallest role and the least dialogue, Imogen Poots as Honey manages to turn in a riveting performance. Spending her time drunk, throwing up, and drifting in and out of consciousness, she is brilliant in her timing and precision. As Nick, Luke Treadway is commanding as he struts and poses yet ultimately sees his arrogance shattered as he realises with horror that he’s nothing but a pawn in a deadly game.
This is a night of scorching, unrelenting theatre. Miss it and you’ll be missing out on a slice of theatrical history.
‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ plays is at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre until 27 May. For tickets click here.
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Words by Matthew Hyde