by Lynn on May 28, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

I saw these two productions through NTLIVE. WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? will have its encore performance in theatres July 8 and PETER PAN will have its performances June 10 and 11 in cinemas.


Written by Edward Albee
Directed by James MacDonald
Cast: Conleth Hill
Imogen Poots
Imelda Staunton
Luke Treadaway

This is Edward Albee’s masterpiece of a bickering couple, George and Martha, who actually love each other but get their jollies by arguing, usually in front of other people. In this case the other people are Nick and Honey.

It’s 2:00 am. George (Conleth Hill) and Martha (Imelda Staunton) have just returned from a boozy party at Martha’s father’s house. He is the president of the university and has welcoming parties for new faculty. George is a professor in the history department at the university. Martha is his loud-mouthed, braying, needy wife. Because Martha’s father told her to be nice to Nick (Luke Treadaway) and Honey (Imogen Poots), and because Martha is desperate for her father’s approval, Martha invites Nick and Honey over for a night cap. Nick is in the biology department, young and attractive and Honey is his mousey, passive/aggressive wife. Over the course of the evening Martha and Nick reveal secrets that should not have been revealed and the gloves come off as Martha and George spar with Nick and Honey looking on in drunken horror. Honey gets even in her own passive way.

This is a very intimate production that is masterfully directed by James MacDonald. It lends itself particularly well in being filmed because the camera work is able to capture a reaction, a look, a side-long glance, that might have escaped notice in a theatre. To see Imelda Staunton’s hard, glaring look at George makes one cower in the seat. To witness Conleth Hill’s reaction as George—startled at first then hardened to match and beat her—is also a thing that makes you suck air slowly.

Everybody raves about Imelda Staunton as Martha, and well they should. She is fierce, combative, angry, insulting, seductive, predatory and so desperately needy. She hunts down the latest stud on the faculty (that would be Nick) and toys with him because she knows they think she has power as the president’s daughter. She is in her element as she taunts, challenges and insults George, and in her most angry, she confides to Nick that George is the only man she loves.

But while Imelda Staunton is an atomic bomb of emotional energy, George is a stealth bomber—silent and lethal. He is no wimp. He is articulate, intelligent, savvy, cunning, watchful and at all times can control what is going on. He let’s Martha sound off, but at the end of the day, she comes back to him. It’s getting to the end of the day that keeps them sparring. George and Martha play games and it seems that George makes them up. They have imagined a son. It’s a secret until Martha lets it slip to Honey. George is furious. They spar over the son making up all manner of invective of how the other was a terrible parent. (echoes of Albee’s home-life with his adoptive parents who seemed to hate each other. His mother was contemptuous of Albee because he was gay. This also echoes the/real/imagined baby in The Play About the Baby and Honey’s hysterical pregnancy that got Nick to marry her and then she wasn’t pregnant anymore.). When George admits to Nick and Honey that they could never have children, for the first time I took it to mean that they daren’t have them—they would be so terrible as competitive parents.

George knows how desperate Martha is for her father’s attention/affection, of which she has neither. I liken her to Hedda Gabler without the gun. When George tells her how late it is and how can she have invited guests, Martha says, three times, “Daddy said to be nice to them.” She takes her father’s request literally. We get the message about her neediness.

In his hard-nosed, yet quiet way, George knows Martha’s neediness, George has compassion. He has to put an end to pretending and get Martha on track.

As good as Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill are as Martha and George, they are wonderfully supported by Luke Treadaway as Nick and Imogen Poots as Honey.

Treadaway has that blond haired, blue-eyed sheen. He is not overly muscular but he has body language that transmits how confident he is in himself and his world. He has by far the hardest part because it’s so full of stilted, awkward dialogue “Why, yes, yes, it does.” Etc. OY. Treadaway says it all with an easy grace that conveys Nick’s formality. As Honey, Imogen Poots is dreamy-eyed (because of all that brandy) and quietly stubborn and demanding. She has Nick where she wants him and he needs her because of her money.

This production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?? masterful. It is brilliantly, bracingly acted and directed. See it on the Encore presentation, July 8. 2017.


Written by J. M. Barrie
Devised by the companies
Directed by Sally Cookson
Cast: Saikat Ahamed
Marc Antolin
Lois Chimimba
Anna Francolini
Felix Hayes
Paul Hinton
John Pfumojena
Ekow Quartey
Madeleine Worrall

To see this at the National Theatre was magical. To be able to see this in the cinema as part of National Theatre Live was terrific too because it brought back the memories.

We do know the story, right? Peter Pan, a boy who never wants to grow up, has lost his shadow when he was overhearing Mrs. Darling tell her children, Wendy, John and Michael stories. Mrs. Darling closed the window on Peter and trapped his shadow. He comes back for it when Mr. and Mrs. Darling are out at a party, and the dog Nana, who is the nanny is tied up outside. Peter charms the children and teaches them to fly and they go off on a big adventure to Neverland where they meet the Lost Boys.

There are some interesting changes in this version: Nana is played by a sassy-speaking Ekow Quartey who wears a frilly hat, apron and bloomers. Quartey also doubles as Tootles, a sweet, meek Lost Boy; Peter was responsible for the loss of Hook’s hand. He cut it off and fed it to the crocodile (nasty kid is this Peter); Hook is a woman with lots and lots of sarcastic attitude and metal teeth. She is played by the wonderful and scary Anna Francolini who also plays the most loving, kind-hearted Mrs. Darling. Tinker Bell is played by an impish Saikat Ahamed with white wings and a kind of shorts outfit and speaks in a cross between baby gibberish and Italian. Felix Hayes plays a bewildered, frustrated Mr. Darling who is ruled by his family. Mr. Hayes also plays Smee the pirate and Twin Two of the Lost Boys. Twin Two is always beside Twin One. Peter Pan is a loose-limbed, petulant, charming Paul Hinton. And Madeleine Worrall plays Wendy as very sensible and kind-hearted but is up for a flying adventure.

It is directed by the gifted director Sally Cookson who uses movement and simple imagery to create the most magical world. This world is composed of playground stuff; ladders, junk, ropes, piping and blinking lights. The crocodile is made of separate sections of corrugated metal with a long snout and two lights for eyes. The separate sections are held by characters who move in a balletic sequence creating the slow, steady lethal movement of the crocodile.

The flying of the characters is equally magical in that the audience does the work of imagining. The intention was to show how it all worked, from the crocodile to the flying and yet the result is that jaw dropping world of the ‘unbelievable.’

Each character who is lifted off the ground is attached to hooks on the side of their costumes. The hooks in turn are attached to wires and ropes that are also attached to another person who scurries up and down a stationary one piece ladder on either side of the stage. If the person is on the top of the ladder and drops down, the character he/she is attached to will in turn fly up. When the person on the ladder scampers up the rungs, the character attached to that person then lowers down. So it’s the combination of these two bodies acting as counter balances that give the sense of flying. Because it’s all visible to the audience they are in on the trick. Wonderful.

In a way you need the wide shot of a camera to capture all of the wild activity. Close-ups again are helpful in negotiating the various reactions of the characters. Occasionally the activity gets the better of the camera work and some things might get lost. The best advice is to look everywhere in the wide shot to get an idea of how it’s all done.

A final bit of magic and faith. Wendy and her brothers come home from Neverland to her worried parents, bringing many of the lost boys with them. Wendy asks if the Lost Boys can stay. The Lost Boys stand in a line and are introduced quickly: Curly, Nibs, the twins, Tootles etc. Except that can’t be right. In Neverland the twins, Twin One and Twin Two are always beside each other. But Twin Two is played by Felix Hayes who is over there as Mr. Darling with Mrs. Darling. We just take it on faith that when “The Twins’ are introduced that both of them are there and not just Twin One (Laura Cubitt). Love that.

Peter Pan is a joyous, magical, prickly show for fearless children and their accommodating parents.

It plays at selected cinemas doing NTLive productions on June 10 and then June 11 for the Encore.

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