Having first premiered in London in 1964 this Edward Albee play makes its long awaited return. With a star billed line up marking Imelda Staunton’s west end return since her award-winning performance in Gypsy, alongside Game of Thrones actor Conleth Hill. This is a story of marital life at it’s best, and more often, it’s very worst.
After a late night party, George (Conleth Hill) and his wife Martha (Imelda Staunton) invite a younger couple Nick and his wife Honey to their opulent house for drinks. Over the course of the evening the bitterness in their relationship becomes clear. Martha views George as a failure and a disappointment, a shadow of her father, the college principal, not living up to her father’s success. A night of drinking and games including ‘Humiliate the host’, ‘Bringing up Baby’ and ‘Get the Guests’ reveal secrets and accusations from all sides of which neither wish to be exposed. The antics become surreal and the line between truth and fantasy becomes blurred leaving no sense of safety for the performers or the audience.
Conleth Hill plays George with such dry wit and straight comedy that he is an equal match alongside Staunton’s Martha, leaving at times the audience to feel genuinely sorry for him and the hand he’s been dealt. As Nick (Luke Treadway) provides George an example of the man he once was, a young ambitious teacher with his life and dreams in front of him. When Martha goes on a mission and seduces him, this is only enhanced. As Honey (Imogen Poots) makes her west end debut with a tour de force performance to match her co-stars, a name upon which to look out for in the future.
However, the final act aptly named ‘The Exorcism’ is what the audience will remember, as with her performance in Gypsy we once again receive proof that no one plays utter despair and emotion quite like Imelda Staunton and her transformation in the final half hour will rightly win her praise and awards.
Review by Mark Blanchfield.
Tickets from £29.50
Playing at Harold Pinter Theatre until 27 May
Harold Pinter Theatre Panton Street, London SW1Y 4DN