Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?

Edward Albee
Octagon, Bolton
23 September 2011 to 15 October 2011

In the way in which he stalks the floor, loosening his neck, or then tensing his body, actor George Irving resembles much more a prize fighter, than head of history at an American university.

It is an intriguing physical performance through and through, in what is after all the heavyweight contest of modern American theatre, Edward Albee’s knockout three-round match between George and his alcoholic wife Martha, given an equally hard-hitting performance here from Margot Leicester.

Then again their ‘ringside seconds’ Tammy Joelle and Keiran Hill also contribute significantly to a thrilling and generally faultless revival of a classic drama.

It should certainly sit easily on any trophy shelf with director David Thacker’s other trademark American productions of recent years.

Irving and Leicester have shown their acting muscle here several times, but this is a dream pairing as they draw their late-night drinking guests into their raw, and often bruisingly-funny, exchanges.

At heart it’s a love story, but one where love is a snarling, spitting beast that also conceals a cruel tragedy at the heart of the couple’s lives.

It also affords their guests, Nick and Honey, an awful glimpse of their own possible future.

Hill and Joelle are also familiar faces at the Octagon, but give two of their best performances yet.

Irving, initially, takes The Quiet Man route towards his character, with sections of the Octagon’s wrap-around audience maybe straining occasionally to catch every word. But his is a control that he gradually turns up, as slowly and as assuredly as his guests’ drinks are replenished.

His dry cynicism mixes in with his stage wife’s open scorn, as Margot Leicester hides nothing of the drunken desperation of a life, and a relationship, unfulfilled.

Theirs is a party you would not want to be invited to, but from which you cannot avert your horrified gaze.

Unless easily frightened of Virginia Woolf, well worth seeing.

Reviewer: David Upton


Comment by Alan Hulme

Another first-class, high-octane drama from the powerhouse that is David Thacker's Octagon. Exceptional performances from all four.