Buckle up for a raging masterpiece on marital woe made famous by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton

Words: Millie Milliken   Photos: Johan Persson

Theatre review Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Harold Pinter Theatre - credit johan persson

Going in to review Edward Albee’s 1962 ground-breaking play – considered the 20th century’s most extreme attack on the idyllic 1950s American family – I’d convinced myself I was prepared for the next three hours of back-to-back vehemence. However, in the hands of Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill this ferocious battle between a husband and his wife is more heartbreakingly ruthless – and funny – than I could have imagined.

Theatre review Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Harold Pinter Theatre - credit johan persson

When Martha (Staunton) and George (Hill) arrive home late after a university faculty party, George learns that his wife has invited Nick (a dashing Luke Treadaway), a young new professor and his wife Honey (played by Imogen Poots in an impressive West End debut) for drinks. What unfolds is a war of words between Martha and George, using the unsuspecting couple as bait for their complicated games; games that seem to hinder their marriage, while also holding it together.

Theatre review Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Harold Pinter Theatre - credit johan persson

Staunton is faultless. She manages to spit (sometimes literally) her insults at George with such venom that Martha’s rare moments of vulnerability feel all the more palpable. It’s Game of Thrones’s Conleth Hill though, as the publically lambasted George, who deserved a smidge more of the night’s standing ovation. Albee may afford his character more of the laughs, but Hill’s off-the-cuff delivery is as touching as it is funny. Both leads’ deft performances make the underlying theme of the play (the blur between reality an illusion) a less ambiguous pill to swallow – don’t miss your dose.

Until 27 May
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Theatre review Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Harold Pinter Theatre - credit johan persson

Theatre review Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Harold Pinter Theatre - credit johan persson

Theatre review Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Harold Pinter Theatre - credit johan persson