Saturday, 6 May 2017

'Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf' at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Last week we went to see 'Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf' at the Harold Pinter Theatre. I've never seen the play and only seen the start of the film - I give up shortly after the shooting starts - so I know it's a bit shouty but that's it. I didn't realise there were some really funny bits as well as squirm-inducing bits. I squirmed more than once. I didn't expect to like this play but I did and that's down to the play, to the actors and to the production as a whole.

The play is about George and Martha, a middle aged couple, and their dysfunctional marriage and is set in their rather shabby living room with a drinks trolley that never stops giving. I don't think it's humanly possible to drink as much as they did and not fall over in a coma, but they make it through to the end. Martha announces she's invited the new maths professor (who keeps reminding them his subject is biology) and his wife over for a night-cap much to George's annoyance since it's late at night and he wants to go to bed, not entertain strangers.

There's a lot of banter and joking, and getting in little digs at each other in front of their guests and it's gradually ramped up to become more vicious, each trying to out manoeuvre each other and get in the best jibe. This isn't a marriage, it's open warfare, especially when Martha changes and starts to seduce the new professor in front of George while he sits with the professor's wife and watches before getting angry. Can it get any worse? O yes, easily.

We're not really watching the breakdown of a marriage so much as the disintegration of two people who stay together for some unexplained reason. Unexplained until the end, that is.

It's a really powerful play with some deeply uncomfortable scenes and the strangest resolution at the end that left feeling sorry for those horrendous characters. Conleth Hill was a bit of a surprise with his poise and great timing, his passive aggressiveness a great foil for Imelda Staunton as shouty Martha. The night belongs to Imelda though, who gives us an exhaustingly intense performance of a middle aged woman out of control in her own world. She gave a truly astonishing performance and I have no idea how she can possibly do that night after night.

If you haven't seen it then you should - something like this doesn't get staged in the West End everyday.

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