Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – REVIEW, National Theatre Live, 18th May 2017


After a University Faculty, a young couple Honey and Nick, are invited back for post faculty drinks to Martha and George’s house.

The play examines the complexities of Martha and George’s marriage and the young couple are drawn into the former’s bitter and frustrated relationship.



Edward Albee’s            Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

James MacDonald       Producer in a Sonia Friedman Production

Broadcast                       Live to cinemas from the Harold Pinter Theatre

Running time                Ajpproximately 3 hours



Martha                 Imelda Staunton (Gypsy, Vera Drake, Harry Potter films)

George                Conleth Hill         (Game of Thrones, The Producers)

Honey                 Imogen Poots     (A Long Way Down, Jane Eyre, A Late Quartet)

Nick                     Luke Treadaway (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)




My review as a vocal coach….


Imelda Staunton as Martha

Staunton has a colourful voice, which she uses well.  In this play it ranged in pitch from a considerably high girlie voice to low growls, which makes for a healthy vocal practice because the larynx is not constantly set in the high position and manoeuvres through the passagios with ease up and down.

Staunton’s expert management of subglottal breath (definition – see below) enabled for effective dynamic changes and meticulous articulation.

With complete energy, conviction, passion and commitment, cutting remarks were delivered convincingly with spite and venom, landing exactly on mark.

Staunton’s controlled, muscle- and breath-supported shouting was balanced well juxtaposed with low impact speech ensuring that the blast / potential abuse to her vocal folds was minimised.

Staunton’s laryngeal manoeuvrability was expertly controlled and coupled with meticulous articulation resulted in a range of colours, textures and dynamics. The high larynx position allowed for squeaks and whines (very apt for the embittered, sardonic and sarcastic nature of her character), which just as easily changed to growls and creak (vocal fry / slack vocal folds) thereby ensuring that the voice was used healthily and with expertise, and no doubt with the aim of preserving fit or the complete run of the play.

Staunton totally blew me away with her professionalism and characterisation.


Conleth Hill as George

An equally enjoyable performance.  Hill’s dynamic character reactions to Martha’s bullying and snide remarks convinced me that his character was experiencing them for the first time (although, in reality, it was well rehearsed).

Occasionally, Hill sadly ran out of breath. Whether or not this was a learned habit through numerous rehearsals or whether he had misjudged the length of the phrases for this particular performance, is not discernible.

NB.The trouble with running out of breath is that it causes the rib cage and lungs to collapse inward, leaving even less lung capacity/ air for the body to cover.

Hill’s resulting sound was breathy and constricted leaving the body in a collapsed state with which to begin the next phrases. Not ideal.


Imogen Poots as Honey

Speaking scrunched up whilst trying to project the voice would normally result in vocal distress, however Poot’s drunken lines were delivered effectively and convincingly. Her breath and articulation were well measured, her phrases were delivered deliberately slowly (which I conjectured was with a low abdominal breath position). Her articulation was superb and I was totally convinced that she was drunk.

NB.When the body sags and slouches to portray someone quickly becoming drunk, as with Hill’s running out or air, Poot’s breathing apparatus would not normally be in the best position for an effective, healthy breath, and if that is the case, the larynx could become constricted because the head is not aligned properly.


Luke Treadaway as Nick

I heard every word, but was unconvinced with his character.  It is difficult to detach myself from my vocal coach hat and desist from being critical, but from a lay-person’s point of view, Treadaway just appeared to be delivering his lines.

NB.When an actor does not have breath and thought dropping in organically, I believe they look as if they are waiting for cues and don’t know their lines inside out. The eyes and body do not seem to engage with the other characters, and therefore look as if they are ‘acting’ and, in my opinion, are totally unconvincing as a character.

Treadaway did, of course, engage with the other characters when talking, but looked as if he was acting the character rather than embodying it. A big difference.  The contrast with Staunton’s, Hill’s and Pott’s performances were that their characters convinced me.  I watched them engage and listen to the other characters as if they were hearing the words for the first time, which makes for authentic acting.


A great play, nevertheless and it was a privilege to watch.


Subglottal pressure definition

The amount of subglottal pressure generated is determined by the airflow through the leakage of air between the vocal folds and the resistance to that flow during speech or singing. … The air pressure in the lungs during speech or singing supplies the energy that generates the human voice.

What do others think of authenticity of character and what are you own personal views of this interpretation of the play, if you have seen it?


About Amanda

I became a Voice Practitioner and Complementary Therapist to be able to help with all-round support, not just addressing vocal issues, but also ensuring that mind and body are equally healthy to be able to support the voice. For further details of ‘my journey’ please read more here, or reach out on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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