Luke Treadaway

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

18/05/17

Edward Albee’s 1962 play was famously adapted as a movie in 1966, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The role of Martha is widely considered Taylor’s best onscreen performance, so it’s a tough act to follow – and perhaps, on paper, Imelda Staunton is an unlikely candidate for the role. But never underestimate her. She is an absolute revelation in this National Theatre production, beamed out live to cinemas across the UK. These screenings are a wonderful (and more affordable) way for people outside London to gain access to the very best of theatre.

George (Conleth Hill, best known for Game of Thrones) is an associate Professor of History at an American University, a man who feels that he hasn’t really achieved his life’s ambitions. This belief is constantly reinforced by his hard-drinking wife, Martha (Staunton), who seems to delight in reminding him of his failures at every given opportunity. The events of this three hour play unfold over one night, after a party at the faculty. George and Martha are already well-oiled when they arrive home and George is dismayed to discover that Martha has invited a young couple back ‘for drinks.’ They are a young biology professor, Nick (a barely recognisable Luke Treadaway) and his ditzy wife, Honey (Imogen Poots). Given the gladiatorial nature of the host couple’s conversation before the guests arrive, it’s clear that we are in for a bumpy ride… and as the drinks flow and inhibitions are increasingly broken down, the deepest secrets of everyone present are pulled out and ripped to shreds.

This is an incendiary, vitriolic drama, often wickedly funny but ultimately heart-breaking. Staunton’s extraordinary performance is perfectly matched by Hill’s dry, acerbic turn as George; indeed many of the play’s funniest moments are his, most tellingly the scene where he immerses himself in a favourite history book, while Martha and Nick cavort unabashedly just behind him. The other two actors may have somewhat less to do, but they make the most of what they’ve been given.

It’s a while since I’ve seen this performed and I was astonished at the similarities between this and Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party, which came along more than a decade later. In both plays, an ambitious male character is pushed to the very age by an unforgiving wife. In both plays, we laugh at the resulting humiliation, only to have that laughter snatched away by the misery of the conclusion.

This was a one night only screening, so if you really want to see this show, you’ll need to head down to ‘that London’ where it’s currently showing  at the Harold Pinter theatre.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

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A Street Cat Named Bob

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12/11/16

Okay, so A Street Cat Named Bob isn’t anyone’s idea of game-changing cinema. It’s undemanding, sentimental, family-friendly fare – but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth seeing. It’s undeniably uplifting, and – in this dark winter of political ferment – there’s something to be said for that.

Based on the best-selling book of the same title, A Street Cat Named Bob tells the true-life tale of James Bowen, a recovering addict, and the cat that helped him find his way. When the film opens, Bowen (Luke Treadaway) is living on the streets, enrolled on a methadone programme, but struggling to stay away from the heroin he’s addicted to. He’s busking to make ends meet but, although he’s clearly a decent singer-songwriter, there’s just too much chaos in his life. His key worker, Val (Joanne Froggatt), pulls some strings to get him set up in a flat, and stray cat Bob – making good use of an open window – decides he wants to move in too. Bob gives James a focus, a purpose; he depends on James and so James has to shape up. But it’s not a one-way street: the public are charmed by the sight of Bob perched on James’s shoulders while he busks, and his earnings increase dramatically. He and his cat become well-known, a social media sensation, and James seizes the chance to turn his life around. And, of course, there’s a love interest too, in the shape of Betty (Ruta Gedmintas), a quirky neighbour with a kind, kind heart.It’s impossible not to feel just the tiniest bit moved, and to delight in the change in Bowen’s fortune. It’s a Cinderella tale for the modern age.

The whole thing is well acted: Treadaway, in particular, is a joy to watch, and Anthony Head’s turn as Bowen’s hapless father is also a standout. However, despite dealing with the really serious issues of homelessness and addiction, the whole thing is bathed in a  golden glow, and that’s the real problem here. We do see some of the desperation felt by those living on the street, and the pain felt by addicts just trying to get by. But stark reality is not allowed to interfere much with the feel good nature of this piece, and the solutions are all in the hands of the individual; there’s no suggestion of collective responsibility.

Entertaining, then, and uplifting as I said. But this is not a film that will change anything for anyone except its hero. He’s exceptional, not representative. The problems are all still there, behind this rose-tinted lens.

3.4 stars

Susan Singfield