Astonishing work from Staunton

Conlin Hill and the superb Imelda Staunton in a scene from one of the cinema highlights of the year – the film of the London West End production of Edward Albee’s powerful Whose Afraid of Virgina Woolf?. It’s at Cinema Nouveau for four performances from July 1 to 6. Picture by Johan Persson.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..………………
SCREEN: Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ***** – Cinema Nouveau
(and at Ster-Kinekor Gateway in Umhlanga).
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
……………………………………………..…………………………………………………………………..

 

ONE of the best performances you are likely to see on screen this year is to be found in the wonderful Imelda Staunton’s powerful, stunning, vicious and yet ultimately crushingly sad, portrayal of one of the most loud and acid-tongued of all theatre characters.

Infuriating and disappointing to note then, that Ster-Kinekor has not advertised this National Theatre Live film of the recent London production in its weekend newspaper adverts, for KwaZulu-Natal anyway.

The production is Edward Albee’s long-celebrated Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and discerning cinemagoers should please note that it will be having four performances at Cinema Nouveaus in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, and at the Ster-Kinekor commercial complex at Gateway in Umhlanga.

Screening times are scheduled for 7.30pm tomorrow (July 1), 2.30pm on Sunday (July 2) and 7.30pm next Wednesday and Thursday (July 5 and 6).

The play, unfurling on a single set depicting a finely detailed living room in the 1960s, the shape of which appropriately hints of a boxing ring, opens in the early hours of the morning – in the campus home of an American college.

Imelda Staunton sizzles as battleaxe Martha in Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Picture by Johan Persson.

A very tipsy Martha (Staunton), the battleaxe, 50-something daughter of the college head, has invited a new, young biology professor, blond Nick (Luke Treadaway), and his giddy, mousey blonde wife, Honey (Imogen Poots), for after-party drinks. Not pleased about this is her seemingly ineffectual, long-suffering husband, George (Conlin Hill), a lecturer in history at the college. He is a man six years Martha’s junior – and, as a recurring gag, constantly reminds her of that fact.

As the alcohol flows and sunrise approaches, the young couple are drawn into the endlessly bickering George and Martha’s highly venomous games – bruising, bitter battles that have them tearing at each other, verbally and even sometimes physically, in their lounge.

The evening reaches its climax in a moment of devastating truth-telling with a chilling final scene accentuating an unexpectedly tender, moving moment laced with hope. It had the hair on my arm standing up.

En route there is much to amuse, surprise, sometimes confuse; and much food for thought as the marital battle becomes a metaphor for the decline of the west.

It makes for riveting drama and is studded with an award-worthy performance by Staunton and an equally excellent one by Hill as her perfect foil. They are alone worth your ticket price and sitting through a viewing that runs just over three hours, including a 15-minute interval.

So great are Staunton and Hill that, perhaps unfairly, the supporting performances seem to be on a lower level than that of the former Olivier Award winners. That said, both Treadaway and Poots (making her West End debut) certainly have their moments.

Luke Treadaway and Imogen Poots in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Photo by Johan Persson.

I do have to say, though, that I constantly found it a little hard to swallow that the younger characters would stay put for the hours of abuse and humiliation that engulfs them. One would have thought they would have hotfooted it away from the house the minute the door was opened for them by George, to Marsha bellowing, “Fuck you!”.

Staunton, boiling with anguish and emotion, her every move and expression designed for maximum effect, soars very high indeed as the boozing, obnoxious, flirtatious, troubled and monstrously acid-tongued Martha in a work most widely known for its 1966 movie version teaming Liz Taylor and Richard Burton as the married couple in battle.

Staged recently, until May 27, at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre, the production won wide acclaim, the London Independent critic calling it “a brilliant night out” and the London Guardian labelling it as “one of those rare occasions when play, performance and production perfectly coalesce”. See it!


One thought on “Astonishing work from Staunton

  1. Fantastic Bill, thanks. I love the review, so apt and so spot on.

    Colleen Dardagan Freelance Journalist Landline: 031:2024119 Mobile: 072 147 8258 colleen@dardagan.co.za

    On Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 11:47 AM, …..SoSuterBill….. wrote:

    > sosuterbill posted: ” ………………………………………………………….. > ………………………………………………… SCREEN: Whose Afraid of > Virginia Woolf? – Cinema Nouveau (and at Ster-Kinekor Gateway in Umhlanga). > REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER ……………………………………………..……” >

    Like

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