A new summer season has begun in Bath, full of star cast productions of classics of the world stage. If they are all of the quality of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? then Bath is in for a splendid summer.

Tim Piggott-Smith, Nathan Wiley and Claire Higgins in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf
Tim Piggott-Smith, Nathan Wiley and Claire Higgins in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

Edward Albee's 1962 play is a bruising three act piece, played at full hilt in Adrian Noble's fine production, with hints of Strindbergian power plays (with jokes!) between the warring married couple Martha and George over the course of one night as they tear strips out of each other whilst dragging Honey and Nick, guests invited back from a party for a nightcap, into their perverse psychological warfare. Like a number of the great American plays the piece is soaked in the smell of bourbon, as the play progresses, the haze of alcohol permeates. Stories are told, sexual conquests are made but what is truth and what is illusion? However many times you see it the plays denouement is still an absolute kick that drives the wind out of the audiences collective sails. You leave the theatre feeling bruised, tender but with a sense of elation about the quality of the acting on the stage.

Clare Higgins was born to the role of Martha. She is tough and uncompromising, tender and wounded, her voice occasionally gravely, the next moment released as a girlish shriek. Her Martha is frumpy but turns on a dime to a voluptuous purr so we understand full well why a man thirty years her junior could hardly say no. She is a monster and a victim, who in Higgins superlative performance goes right to our heart. One of our greatest actresses has found a part to match. She is equally matched by Tim Pigott-Smith who takes us from a bullied hen pecked sadsack, stooped of shoulder and defeated in tone,, to a cold, detached, dead-eyed avenger. Honey and Nick can sometimes feel like a second thought but Iris Roberts' Honey finds her own sense of tragedy as great as that of the central couple and Nathan Wiley has a prowling predatory streak as he attempts to assert his alpha dominance.

If this isn't West End bound I'll eat my hat. And once there, expect Higgins in particular to be getting quite the awards buzz.

Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf plays at Bath Theatre Royal until the 5th July.