Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Imelda Staunton’s character Martha sings the title of this play to the tune of ‘Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?’ several times over the course of the evening. She claims it’s funny but not all of the characters agree, and I think I’m on their side. I left the theatre with this annoying little tune stuck in my head.

This 1962 play by Edward Albee and these actors have been much praised over the years, and truthfully I can’t fault any of them in this production. It begins when university academic George (Conleth Hill) and his wife Martha (Imelda Staunton) arrive home after an evening out, shortly followed by new biology faculty member Nick (Luke Treadaway) and his wife Honey (Imogen Poots), whom Martha has invited over. For the rest of that night and the morning after, sparks fly, a lot of the trouble seeming to stem from mention of George and Martha’s son.

George and Martha have a difficult relationship: they argue and bicker constantly and seem to make up before descending to verbal battles once again. Nick and Honey seem to have a more ordinary relationship, but the cracks start to show in the course of the evening. All the four actors give powerful performances.

And yet, there was something missing, for me anyway. I enjoyed the play on an intellectual level but it left me cold emotionally. I don’t know whether it was Albee’s writing itself: one plot point in particular, concerning a story told by George about a man he used to know, led me down the wrong path, and as a friend who’s only seen the film version thought the same as me, I think it must be the play rather than the production itself.

In fairness, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is nearly three hours long and didn’t feel it, so its certainly engaging. It just didn’t quite hit the spot for me.

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