Play by Edward Albee. George and Martha have been married 23 years. He teaches at a small New England College run by Martha's father. At one time, George's future as a possible successor to his father in law was bright. But it didn't happen. Now, as Martha says he's just 'a bog' in the history department.
On a particularly bitter night Nick a good-looking young biology professor and his wife Honey arrive for a nightcap and soon become blood sport during a booze-drenched evening with George and Martha. The couple's scathing verbal assaults, alcohol-fuelled arguments and sado-masochistic mind games represent some of the most savage scenes in modern drama - they need each other as much as they need oxygen to breathe. Written in 1962, this Tony Award winning play is a brittle, darkly comic look at marriage and relationships.
Edward Albee on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: "It's odd isn't it that so many contemporary playwrights are best known for one play, usually an early one and, while often a very good one, not necessarily their finest work. Say John Osborne and most people would come up with Look Back In Anger; say Harold Pinter and the response so often is The Birthday Party; Tom Stoppard: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, say Samuel Beckett and more often than not you get Waiting For Godot... And I find Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? hung about my neck like a shining medal of some sort - really nice but a trifle onerous. Living playwrights bridle a little at this sort of shorthand, for we all insist - hope? - that we haven't written our best works yet, and we all harbour deep, almost religious faith in our most dismissed or despised efforts. All of the plays I mentioned above are fine works - and the playwrights are fine writers - but each of them has written one or two (or more!) plays which I consider the equal (at least!) of the signature ones. But it's nice to be known for something, and we all take it where we can get it, and it's nice to be admired for something we're proud of... I'm very happy to have written Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf7 I think it's a fine play, and its continued success over the past fourty-four years has contributed to the freedom I feel to pursue my career as I have seen fit, and if there is a history years from now, and if I am a footnote in it, I daresay Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will be the play identified with my name (or my name with it,) and I, in my shallow grave, will not cavil much."
Original London West End Production 1964 with Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill
Opened 6 February 1964, Closed 18 July 1964 at the Piccadilly Theatre
Transferred 20 July 1964, Closed 23 January 1965 at Globe Theatre (now Gielgud Theatre)
Transferred 25 January 1965, Closed 19 June 1965 at Garrick Theatre
The original cast featured Uta Hagen as 'Martha' and Arthur Hill as 'George' (reprising the roles they originated on Broadway) with Richard Easton as 'Nick' and Beverlee McKinsey as 'Honey'. Alternate matinee (afternoon) cast featured Constance Cummings as 'Martha' and Jerome Kilty as 'George'. Directed by Alan Schneider.
Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill - who were reprising the roles they originated in the original Broadway production - continued in this West End production up to Saturday 2 May 1964 after which the roles where taken over by Constance Cummings as 'Martha' and Ray MacAnally as' George' for the remainder of the London West End run.
London Revival National Theatre 1981 with Margaret Tyzack and Paul Eddington
Previewed 2 July 1981, Opened 27 August 1981, Closed 7 December 1981 (in repertory) at the NT Lyttelton Theatre
The cast for the National Theatre production featured Margaret Tyzack as 'Martha' and Paul Eddington as 'George' with David Schofield as 'Nick' and Mary Maddox as 'Honey'. Directed by Nancy Meckler with designs by Tonya McCallin.
It was a very open secret that there was a very tense and rocky atmosphere within the acting company of this production during the early stages of the run for a number of reasons. This production, which played a short pre-London try-out at the Theatre Royal in Bath, originally featured Joan Plowright in the role of 'Martha'. It was then scheduled to play in repertory at the National Theatre Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre from 2 July 1981 and officially open with a 'First Night' on 10 July 1981, continue for a short season and then, hopefully transfer into the West End.
But, very quickly, it was rumoured that Plowright was having 'artistic differences' with the director, Nancy Meckler, who was then known only for her work in 'fringe theatre' - many viewed her as being too inexperienced for such a major production as this in a 900 seater theatre. In addition Plowright had the added stress, once the production moved to the NT, that this was not only her first time performing in the Lyttelton Theatre, but also marked her return to the NT for the first time since her husband, Laurence Olivier, had departed as its director seven years previous.
Events then compounded when Plowright dropped out the day before the original 'First Night' with a severe throat infection. The NT quickly announced that the 'First Night' would be postponed until 27 August 1981, and that after resting, Plowright would re-join the cast from 19 August, with her understudy Pamela Buchner playing the role of 'Martha' in the meantime. But then, within 24 hours, it was announced that Plowright had left the production for good and would not be returning.
This left the NT with the problem of recasting this major role at such short notice with an actress that was able to complement and balance the casting playing opposite Paul Eddington, who was a huge 'name' through his roles in the hit television series The Good Life and Yes, Minister. In the end Margaret Tyzack stepped in and the production opened on 27 August 1981, but it never transferred to the West End.
London Revival 1987 with Billie Whitelaw and Patrick Stewart
Previewed 12 February 1987, Opened 18 February 1987, Closed 14 March 1987 at the Young Vic
The cast featured Billie Whitelaw as 'Martha' and Patrick Stewart as 'George' with Saskia Reeves as 'Honey' and Matthew Marsh as 'Nick'. Directed by David Thacker with designs by Shelagh Keegan and lighting by Paul Denby.
Billie Whitelaw and David Thacker had hoped that Ronald Pickup would play the role of 'George', but when his scheduling commitments made that impossible, Patrick Stewart joined the cast in the role instead. It was rumoured that Billie Whitelaw was unhappy with David Thacker's decision to stage the play 'in-the-round'. Although the production was well received (including the in-the-round staging), and a West End transfer was on-the-cards, due to a combination of Billie Whitelaw wanting to leave, and the role of 'Martha' therefore needing to be recast, and the problems of keeping the 'in-the-round' staging in a new theatre, the hoped for transfer unfortunately never happened.
1st London West End Revival 1996 with David Suchet and Diana Rigg
Previewed 30 October 1996, Opened 6 November 1996, Closed 22 March 1997 at the Aldwych Theatre in London
Howard Davies' acclaimed revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in London starring Diana Rigg and David Suchet.
The cast stars David Suchet as 'George' and Diana Rigg as 'Martha' with Lloyd Owen as 'Nick' and Clare Holman as 'Honey'. Directed by Howard Davies with designs by John Napier, lighting by Jenny Kagan and sound by John A Leonard. This is a transfer from the Almeida Theatre in North London (previewed from 11 September 1996, opened on 25 September 1996 and closed on 26 October 1996).
"It is George and Martha's exhibitionism that gives the play such plot as it possesses. With alcohol comes revelations, and with revelations the demolition of fantasies and life-lies... Overwrought, melodramatic stuff? Not as Howard Davies's careful yet intense production presents it. Ugly and disturbing, then? Yes; but both main actors manage unsentimentally to suggest that behind the Strindbergian venom and sado-masochistic mania is a confused love. You can certainly see the pain in Suchet's wearily ironic George. You also see the vulnerability and the thwarted yearnings masked by the brash bravado, the sensuality, brutality and glee that add up to Rigg's Martha." The Times
"Theatrical perfection; an evening which, years from now, when those present are very old, will still be talked about with awe. Edward Albee's 1961 tale of the marriage battleground is a truly great play. This revival, directed by Howard Davies with the authority of a tank commander, is acknowledged by the author as 'among the very finest' of the productions he has seen. It is difficult to imagine one finer. The incomparable Diana Rigg is Martha, wife of the university professor she sees as a failure. She's a spitfire, running on gin and determined to shoot down poor, pathetic George. Only George is not an easy target. In an equally towering performance, David Suchet lashes back in a heart-stopping marital war where no prisoners are taken. Lloyd Owen and Clare Holman, as the young couple who come visiting and get caught in the crossfire, superbly support two heavyweights in peak condition to guarantee a conflict as poignant as it is savage... If you see nothing else for the rest of your life, don't miss this." The News of the World
"If there was a part Diana Rigg was born to play, it's this one. Looking like a Sindy doll who's been left out in the rain, she is battle-scarred but dressed to kill in zebra-striped slacks and a short, saucy black kimono. The Amazonian build (all the better for ball-breaking), the jutting jaw (all the better for snapping with), the irrepressible sexiness (all the better for getting, well, Riggish), the smoked voice (all the better for taunting with), add up to a huge performance. But it's the cobra-like quality, always ready to uncoil and strike out, that makes her almost admirably lethal. Howard Davies has staged a very impressive revival of Albee's most brilliantly hellish play... David Suchet doesn't manage to erase the memory of Richard Burton in the great movie version, but his contempt is all the more bruising for being delivered through a cruel, cold, reptilian smile." The Mail on Sunday
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in London at the Aldwych Theatre previewed from 30 October 1996, opened on 6 November 1996 and closed on 22 March 1997
2nd London West End Revival 2006 with Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner
Previewed 20 January 2006, Opened 31 January 2006, Closed 13 May 2006 at the Apollo Theatre London
Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin star as George and Martha in a major London revival of Edward Albee's classic play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in a critically acclaimed production originally seen in New York at The Longacre Theatre in 2005. The critically acclaimed 2005 Broadway cast reprise their roles for this London West End staging: Kathleen Turner as 'Martha' and Bill Irwin as 'George' along with Mireille Enos as 'Honey' and David Harbour as 'Nick'.
"The verbal sparring and violence of Albee's early masterpiece remain astonishing, even frightening, yet bitterly, horribly funny... Kathleen Turner was born to play Martha: with her bourbon-and-nicotine croak and strong, masculine jaw, the part might have been written for her... Bill Irwin's George strikes you, initially, as peculiar... but this extraordinary performance grows on you, and by the end you can't imagine George any other way. He may lack for physical presence, for testosterone and drive, but his moral centre is more substantial... A classic production of a classic play." The Sunday Times
"There have been a handful of fine British revivals of Edward Albee's savage, hellish, brilliant portrait of two marriages. But none has been as mighty as Anthony Page's Broadway production which last week swept triumphantly into London's West End with an all-American cast bringing a blazing authenticity to their roles. This funny, ferocious, devastating, definitive interpretation of what is surely one of the greatest plays of the 20th Century is an unmissable theatrical event. Kathleen Turner was born to play the part of Martha, daughter of the president of a New England college, and slightly older wife of a history professor called George whose lack of ambition is one of her many disappointments. A big, blowsy and ball-breaking broad, she is almost bull-like in the way she charges at George, gores him, collapses on to the sofa and then, fuelled by another drink, charges again. Matchingly magnificent, Bill Irwin's George is in sharp physical contrast - his skin tight and stretched over his pointy, delicate, vulnerable features. In this fight to a terrible finish, Irwin carves George's carefully timed wit with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel while Martha's hacks away, like a drunk with a chainsaw. But both the actors and Page prove keenly and painfully alert to the subtext of the mutual treachery, mutual dependency and mutual despair of these partners in crime and punishment who would be absolutely lost without one another. Scathing comedy turns to searing desolation in a flicker... David Harbour, as the humourless biologist Nick, and Mireille Enos, as his slender, brandysoaked wife Honey, turn in fullblooded, marvellously detailed performances." The Mail on Sunday
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in London at the Apollo Theatre previewed from 20 January 2006, opened on 31 January 2006 and closed 13 May 2006
London Revival 2009 with Matthew Kelly and Tracey Childs
Opened 14 April 2009, Closed 9 May 2009 at the Trafalgar Studios 2 in London
A revival of Edward Albee's classic play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in London starring Matthew Kelly and Tracey Childs preented in the small studio space at the Trafalgar Studios.
The cocktails come out and the gloves come off as George and Martha take their guests through the evening from hell. An extraordinary theatrical creation of true depth, vicious comedy and compassionate insight, Albee's masterpiece combines the brilliant, the banal, the vulgar and the poetic.
This revival production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in London and the cast features Matthew Kelly as 'George', Tracey Childs as 'Martha', Mark Farrelly as 'Nick' and Louise Kempton as 'Honey'. Directed by Andrew Hall. This production transfers to London following an acclaimed run at the 140-seat Garrick Theatre in Lichfield, Staffordshire in October last year.
"In the confines of this tiny studio, we find ourselves, awkwardly and thrillingly, shoehorned in as extra guests at the party from hell, which sees not even the dissection - there's no pain to be inflicted on the dead - but the vivisection of a marriage. Matthew Kelly's remarkable career renaissance continues apace as the failing academic George, a man who may be down but certainly knows how to lash out at his caustic goad of a wife, Martha. Kelly, rumpled and crumpled even down to the hair that slouches disconsolately over his forehead, suggests quite beautifully someone who knows - and hates himself for the knowledge - that loathsome cruelty is his only chance of a victory, albeit a Pyrrhic one. Tracey Childs hits the part of the destructive, selfdestroying Martha running and, wonderfully, doesn't let up for a riveting three hours in Andrew Hall's precision-tuned production... Mark Farrelly and Louise Kempton are perfect foils as the neat young couple who are chewed up and spat out like easy meat by the dangerous carnivores that are George and Martha. Farrelly in particular impresses as Nick, swaggering and shying away by turns and then, eventually, giving in to his naked ambition and Martha's lust. A harrowing, masterful evening." The London Evening Standard
"I still can't quite believe that Matthew Kelly, one-time king of Saturday night TV light entertainment, is the real deal as a stage actor... His portrayal of George, a derelict New England history don who, with his wife Martha, subjects a young couple to a night of recrimination and humiliation, is a masterwork of cruelty and vulnerability. Tracey Childs keeps pace with him as Martha, at once sexy and repellent in her magnificent dishevelment, while Mark Farrelly and Louise Kempton, who play their hapless guests, never allow themselves to become mere foils. In lesser company Kempton's comic timing would steal the show. Edward Albee's uncomfortable essay on the pleasure we take in destroying each other is not comfortable viewing. Indeed, the claustrophobic atmosphere of Andrew Hall's production is made almost unbearably real by the tiny confines of the stage and auditorium at the Trafalgar Studios. It's worth sitting it out, though, if only to thank God you're not one of Albee's characters." The Sunday Telegraph
"With no gap between the audience and George and Martha's Sixties living room on an East Coast campus, we're all locked in together for this three-hour bout of late-night drinking, mauling, bawling and character assassination... Matthew Kelly continues his reinvention as a stage actor of note. He's raging yet impotent, hangdog yet bilious, as he entertains the poised young lecturer Nick and his callow wife Honey. He's hard to take your eyes off - even if, sometimes, that's because he's acting so hard that he's obscuring the view. It's a bold, skilful performance that lacks only a stillness at its heart to help us to distinguish between George's effects and Kelly's effects... Tracey Childs has a perfect haughty indignity: shoving herself into a low-cut dress, feeling up the guests, she's bracing yet not a caricature... And if this production is, finally, more impressive than moving, the vicious vivacity of Albee's masterpiece stings throughout." The Times
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in London at the Trafalgar Studios 2 in London opened on 14 April 2009 and closed on 9 May 2009.
3rd London West End Revival 2017 with Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill
Previewed 22 February 2017, Opened 9 March 2017, Closed 27 May 2017 at the Harold Pinter Theatre
A major revival of Edward Albee's classic play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in London starring Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill
The cast features Imelda Staunton as 'Martha' and Conleth Hill as 'George' with Luke Treadaway as 'Nick' and Imogen Poots as 'Honey'. Directed by James Macdonald with designs by Tom Pye, lighting by Charles Balfour and music and sound by Adam Cork.
When this revival opened at the Harold Pinter Theatre in March 2017, Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times commented how "a good staging of Edward Albee’s marital-misery masterpiece can give you a hangover. James Macdonald’s blistering production leaves you wanting to detox for at least a month... Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill are superb... There’s beautifully shaded work too from Luke Treadaway and Imogen Poots as Nick and Honey, the bright young things who have foolishly wandered into ringside seats for this exhibition fight... Painfully, headache-inducingly good." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph hailed "James McDonald's superlative revival... 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." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard praised "this fierce revival of Edward Albee's lacerating Sixties play... James Macdonald's finely-balanced production ensures this modern classic still feels lethal. As Conleth Hill and Imelda Staunton fathom the depths of their poisonous duet, the humour is merciless and the pain exquisite." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail wrote that "Conleth Hill and Imelda Staunton give impressive performances in a revival of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?. 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." Michael Billington in the Guardian described how "Imelda Staunton 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... This is, however, a team show and the young couple are excellently portrayed. 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 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." Paul Taylor in the i newspaper said that "it's the most high-energy and funniest version 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. James Macdonald ups the ante and gets the adrenalin racing from the very outset here." Neil Norman in the Daily Express noted that Conleth Hill's "George is the bruised and beating heart of the play and the production. And while Imdelda Staunton is terrific, hers is a deeply unsympathetic, brittle performance." Dominic Maxwell in the Times highlighted that "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."
Imelda Staunton's West End theatre credits include David Lindsay-Abaire's new play Good People at the Noel Coward Theatre in 2015; Joe Orton's comedy Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Trafalgar Studios 1 in 2009; Michael Hastings' play Calico at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2004; the Stephen Sondheim musicals Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre in 2015; Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi Theatre in 2012; and Into the Woods at the Phoenix Theatre in 1990. Conleth Hill London stage credits include Owen McCafferty's comedy Shoot The Crow at the Trafalgar Studios 1 in 2005; Michael Frayn's play Democracy at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2004; and the original cast of Marie Jones' comedy Stones in his Pockets at the Ambassadors Theatre in 2000. Luke Treadaway credits include originating the lead role of 'Christopher' in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in an award-winning performance at the National Theatre in 2012 and at the Apollo Theatre in 2013.
"[George] is a wonderful role and Hill clearly relishes it, in a controlled, naturalistic performance of dry, throwaway wit and quiet rage... Imelda Staunton, as Martha, is petite yet huge, all-consuming, predatory, everything at full volume, with a magnificent laugh, and hilariously vampish later on when, virtually in front of her own husband, she aims to seduce Nick... Staunton inhabits the role beautifully, a force of nature desperately in need of something that George cannot give her... For all its classic status, there are times when Albee’s play sounds a bit too mannered and repetitive, and the actors don’t always manage to handle this. Luke Treadaway is spot-on, though, as the smug, self-satisfied golden boy and career scientist: entirely believable and, as always, entirely unlikeable... Imogen Poots is excellent as Honey, his brandy-loving wife, alternately frail and simpering and anxiously smiley, pathetically proud of her husband — then suddenly, unexpectedly steely, and more and more outrageous when drunk... James Macdonald directs with aplomb, Tom Pye’s set of a 1950s American interior is just dingy and tired enough, and one or two of the textual changes are well judged." The Sunday Times
"Ever been the guest of a couple who argue? From this seemingly sitcomish idea the late American writer Edward Albee created one of the funniest and most desolate plays of the last century. First seen in 1962, the most famous version of this alcohol-fuelled descent into domestic barbarity is the film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as Martha and George, the married couple whose cosy home in the campus of a New England university is a war zone. Those who enter end up as casualties. The innocent bystanders are clean-cut couple Nick, a newbie college professor played by Luke Treadaway and his meek wife Honey, alias Imogen Poots. The evening starts at 2am. It finishes at dawn by which time every humiliating detail about these four lives has been revealed by George and Martha's toxic banter, like the raw flesh exposed by a whip. Treadaway and Poots are terrific at capturing the slide from optimistic newlyweds to walking wounded. But it's Conleth Hill as failed history lecturer George and the monumental Imelda Staunton as his scarily truthful wife that drive James Macdonald's production. Mutual love and hate between these two is expressed in brutal, witheringly witty brickbats. And included in Martha's armoury is a laugh that could emasculate a man at 500 paces - a 'Ha!' that is fired like a howitzer. Take a helmet." The London Metro
"The play is one of contrasts setting male against female, youth against age, truth against fantasy and New England sophistication (George and Martha) against Midwestern naivety (Nick and Honey). Above all it offers one of the most intricate and intimate portraits of marriage seen on stage... It is hard to imagine a cast that could be bettered. Luke Treadaway as Nick, a young buck painfully brought to bay, and Imogen Poots as Honey, a sabre-toothed pussycat, are splendid. But it is the magnificent Conleth Hill's raw pain and simmering resentment as George that provide the abiding image of the night. James Macdonald's pitch-perfect production is not only the most affecting and intelligent but the most enjoyable evening in the West End." The Sunday Express
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in London at the Harold Pinter Theatre previewed from 22 February 2017, opened on 9 March 2017 and closes on 27 May 2017