Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Harold Pinter Theatre received all positive ratings from pro reviewers, with five awarding five stars. Henry Hitchings (ES) hailed a “fierce revival” of Edward Albee’s “lacerating Sixties play”. Mark Shenton (The Stage) described this “dark, sour portrait of a marriage” in a “finely calibrated production” by James Macdonald. Michael Billington (Guardian), noting it’s also “a comment on the state of the Union” suggested this production “scores heavily” because “rooted in psychological realism” and Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out), despite arriving “braced for impact,” found it “unexpectedly shattering” because “horribly, plausibly human”.
Hitchings hailed “a performance of wounding intensity”, from Imelda Staunton in which “Initially… the laughs come thick and fast” then, “in the frenzy of debate” she’s “sharper than an assassin’s dagger, yet… every bit as memorable in the play’s quieter moments”. Lukowski agreed she’s “as good as you’d hope – playful, witty and malicious, but also desperately, desperately vulnerable, lonely and sensitive”. Billington thought her particularly “magnificent” and “memorable” in moments of “desolate sadness” and Shenton admired a “ferocious howl of existential crisis”.
Hitchings declared Conleth Hill “superb” detecting “both violence and a malign cleverness” and Billington agreed he “superbly suggests an old scrapper… a pensive intellectual who delights in scoring points” yet “never lets you forget” his “despairing marital love”. For Lukowski he was “the real revelation… peculiar, frightening… charming and even likeable, but with a shockingly caustic nastiness underneath”.
Hitchings saw the actors “fathom the depths” of this “poisonous duet” and Shenton was thrilled by “how delicately the balance of power keeps shifting”, glimpsing “an underlying kindness, affection and amusement that has kept them together”. Billington found “watching the two of them pummel each other… exhausting” yet “ultimately uplifting and cathartic”.
Billington also thought “the young couple… excellently portrayed” and Lukowski hailed a “world class cast”, suggesting Luke Treadaway “clearly relishes the chance to be a selfish drunken shit”. Hitchings found him “plausible” and thought Imogen Poots “skilfully suggests the jittery bewilderment” of his wife. Billington felt she “strikingly” portrays this “childlike” character and Lukowski found her “painfully sad and sweet”.
Billington thought the play “tragic” yet “optimistic” in that the couple “finally shed their illusions”, hailing “one of those rare occasions when play, performance and production perfectly coalesce”. Hitchings felt “Macdonald’s precise and finely balanced production ensures that this modern classic still feels lethal, the humour is merciless and the pain exquisite.” Lukowski, suggesting “the hosts’ performance” could potentially seem “a familiar ritual” found that “here it all feels horribly fresh and avoidable… uniquely disastrous,” and described a “horrible, vertiginous sense of fast-moving tragedy, of crashing descent”. Shenton agreed the “brutal and bracing” play “all feels too plausibly, unbearably real” here, finding it “utterly heartbreaking”.