Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Harold Pinter Theatre review: ​Imelda Staunton is sublime in this vicious, heartbreaking drama

 
Steve Dinneen
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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? | Harold Pinter Theatre
5.0

​Imelda Staunton is the furiously palpitating heart of this intoxicating – not to mention intoxicated – production of Edward Albee’s brilliant treatise on mid-life alcoholism.

Often portrayed as a seductive Mrs Robinson figure, Staunton’s Martha is sexuality’s terrifying sunset, refusing to go gentle into that good night. Her conquest of the young academic Nick is less a romance than a wrangler breaking in a steer. This Martha is a chaotic force of nature, legs twitching, braying with fierce laughter, spitting with ungodly rage; she’s a collapsing star, threatening to destroy everything within her event horizon.

Conleth Hill is also exceptional as her long-suffering husband George, broken by life, and his wife, hoping to simply get through the night, or at least until he’s drunk enough to give as good as he gets. The two of them are magnetic, their decaying relationship with its sadistic games a grim warning against marital apathy. Luke Treadaway’s Nick and Imogen Poots’ ditsy debutante Honey are little more than furniture for the older actors to rearrange, but when they are on form like this, who would complain?

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