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Were the critics afraid of Imelda Staunton in Virginia Woolf?

Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill star in this revival of Edward Albee's play


Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage


"[The play] has an almost audacious simplicity. A middle-aged couple George and Martha... invite a younger couple, Nick and Honey, round for late night drinks. In the course of an evening of heavy drinking and bitter, exposing games - humiliate the host, hump the hostess, get the guests - harsh truths are revealed and new revelations received."

"At her best Staunton is also capable of capturing infinite sadness with just a clench of her jaw or a movement of her hand. On the night I saw her, the only moment she mined the melancholy at Martha's heart was when - tellingly - she was alone on stage, clinking the ice in her glass, and shaking with silent misery."

"With the smallest part, [Imogen Poots] makes the most of every gesture, hiding unease with desperate politeness, succumbing to agony as her dirty secrets are washed out in public, and finally discovering a kind of acceptance."

"For me, they just miss the mysterious poetry that Albee provides. But you can still hear a pin drop as the action unfolds. What a play it is!"

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"This is one of those rare occasions when play, performance and production perfectly coalesce. "

"Imelda Staunton, having portrayed one of the sacred monsters of the American musical in Gypsy, now brilliantly embodies Edward Albee's campus Medusa in the shape of Martha. Conleth Hill matches her every inch of the way as her seemingly ineffectual husband, George."

"There is a key moment in this production when the historian, George, points out to the geneticist, Nick, that Americans are heavy drinkers and says: "I suspect we'll be drinking a great deal more too... if we survive." Albee wrote those lines in 1962 when the US was haunted by the cold war balance of terror. They seem no less resonant in Trump's America"

"Luke Treadaway as Nick combines the golden arrogance of youth with the smug disdain of the scientist for a battered old humanist like George. Imogen Poots, in her West End debut, also strikingly shows the childlike Honey switching between awed delight in the older couple's outrageousness and a growing awareness that she herself is the victim of Nick's contempt."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph


"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is the most wickedly entertaining, most viciously nasty, most incrementally harrowing play in the American canon. And I've never yet seen an account of it that ticks all those boxes with such pen-breaking vigour. "

"Staunton's specialism is the female monster who somehow hooks you in, unawares, to the pain and damage that lies beneath the snarling mask and winds up enlisting your sympathy."

"If there was an award for Best Sozzled Acting, Imogen Poots, funny-touching as the clueless, condescended-to Honey, would win it. She makes her mark even when slumped on the brown leather sofa that sits dead-centre in Tom Pye's spacious yet oppressive living-room (nicely rounded off with idly stashed books and tacky tube door-chimes)."

"A flawless production? Albee sworn to it."

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Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard


"Whether or not you're afraid of the radicalism and unconventional brilliance of Virginia Woolf, you're likely to be scared stiff by Imelda Staunton's Martha in this fierce revival of Edward Albee's lacerating '60s play."

"Luke Treadaway, an actor who often appears fascinatingly otherworldly, isn't an obvious choice to play a ruthlessly ambitious dullard. But he's plausible as the cocky and empty-headed Nick, while Imogen Poots, making her West End debut, skilfully suggests the jittery bewilderment of Honey, who treads an uncertain path between politeness and absurd naivety."

"James Macdonald's precise and finely balanced production ensures that this modern classic still feels lethal. As Hill and Staunton fathom the depths of their poisonous duet, the humour is merciless and the pain exquisite."

Paul Taylor, The Independent


"Jesus H Christ – but this is a brilliant night out. That's not my profane oath, by the way, but Martha's first squiffy shout when she crashes back home ("what a dump!") at 2am at the start of this American classic."

"It's the most high-energy and the funniest version of the piece that I have seen, and the first to have given the proceedings a really dark and jolting penumbra of almost military as well as marital belligerence. "

"​Imelda Staunton is all of five feet but her performance as Martha - one of the greatest feats of acting I have witnessed – is "immense", to use one of those buzz terms that aren't always proportionate to the actual achievement."

"It's hilarious; it's utterly excruciating; it's three hours. The ending is, for my taste, a hair too slow. But hasten, hasten. Staunton lives!"

Dominic Maxwell, The Times


"[Staunton] barracks Conleth Hill, as her husband, George, for not spotting the movie she is quoting from. She barracks him for everything else too. That's how this brilliantly bumpy ride is going to roll: every exchange a tussle for territory, an act of intellectual vaudeville, a supremely self-aware psychodrama."

"Sometimes, as Martha talks in capitals - "I DON'T BRAY!" - or snarls at their late-night guests, the coiffed young biologist Nick and his mousy wife, Honey, you wonder if she is a character or just a series of relishably awful effects."

"Yes, there are moments in James Macdonald's typically adroit production where the danger could be more palpable and it's a really strong evening rather than a flat-out masterpiece. Yet it's witty, it's wounding, it's not quite like anything else — it's a full theatrical meal."

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail


"This is great acting. Yet I dislike Albee's play."

"It is bleak, excessive, repetitive. Listening to drunks in real life is boring enough. Watching them depicted on stage for an evening that lasts three and a quarter hours may feel like a penitence."

"If nihilism is your bag, Albee's your man. But I couldn't escape Monday's preview fast enough."

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? runs at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 27 May.