REVIEW:Theatre Three Tall Women Wyndham's Theatre, London

'The effect of these cast changes is to make the work feel both tighter and more humanely balanced than it did previously'

"We were fallible": when Maggie Smith utters that line in Three Tall Women, the "we" is not royal, for all the character's dowager-grandeur, but justified by a simple, if strange, arithmetic. In the second half of Edward Albee's award-winning play, the rich nonagenarian - who is based on the author's adoptive mother and whose querulous, helpless senility Smith conveys with transfixing tragicomic brilliance in the first act - lies comatose in bed after a stroke. You quickly realise, though, that this is a dummy now, for Smith returns as the same figure at 72 and forms a trio, at the bedside, with other versions of the character as a young woman and in middle age.

A life is seen in self-communing cross-section - a dramatic conceit which gives two of the women access to daunting previews of the increasingly embattled and embittered creature into whom they evolve and the chance to pull rank, with ill-concealed schadenfreude, on their juniors. Demonstrating both how we're incapable of imagining who (or what) we will become and how the people we once were would be strangers to us, the set-up offers all three women the opportunity of vehemently denying one another. By this paradoxical means, Albee's astringent, witty, undeluded play arrives at an acceptance of its heroine: the woman who threw him out for being a homosexual here gets the last word, three times over.

In this revival of Anthony Page's excellent production, Sara Kestelman and Samantha Bond replace the original actresses as, respectively, the caustically cynical mid-lifer and the hopeful, idealistic 26-year-old who still clutches ("I'm a good girl") the image of herself as ingenue. The effect of these cast changes is to make the work feel both tighter and more humanely balanced than it did previously. One of my caveats when I first reviewed the piece was that, as it moves towards the wintry stoicism of Maggie Smith's final speeches, the play underacknowledges the extent to which we lose certain forms of wisdom as we get older.

This objection seems much less valid now. Ms Bond, who has a warmer, more sympathetic stage presence than Anastasia Hille, emphasises the emotional consternation rather than the recoiling priggishness of the youngest version. Indicating that there was a time when this woman may have possessed the virtue of tolerance, she looks on, with stricken incredulity, as Ms Kestelman's mockingly rueful, superbly passionate mid-lifer rails across the bed at the silent, estranged son. The fury of this attack, the raging insistence of the rejection, is fuelled, Kestelman's performance suggests, by a raw grief which she would not be prepared to admit to herself, let alone the boy.

Playing the rambling 92-year-old in Act One, Maggie Smith has to be seen to be believed. The sudden subsidings into wretched senile tears; the frustrated, dismissive flappings of her arm as her mind gropes impotently for a mislaid fact; the comic cunning with which she tries to cover over her patches of blankness; the beadily aggressive suspicion and the moments of alert cackling triumph - Smith's performance which, at the moment, is firmly on the right side of caricature, captures all this and more. It shows you a far from unfamiliar type: the person who hardened into a monster because she has had the burden of being strong for everyone in the family. Not to be missed.

n To 9 Dec. Booking: 0171-369 1736

Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
books50 Shakespeare phrases still in use, to mark the bard's 450th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio (left) could team up with British director Danny Boyle for the Steve Jobs (right) biopic
film
Arts & Entertainment
The next wig thing: 'Drag Queens of London'
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Bear Grylls’ latest television show has been labelled sexist by female survival experts

TV
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams as Arya and Rory McCann as The Hound
TV
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Rush hour: shoppers go sale crazy in Barkers, Kensington
film
Arts & Entertainment
Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes play Catherine and Heathcliff in Pete Kosminsky's 1992 movie adaptation of Wuthering Heights
booksGoogle Doodle celebrates Charlotte Brontë's 198th birthday
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Robin Thicke with his Official Number 1 Award for 'Blurred Lines', the most downloaded track in UK music history
Music
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello
Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

Arts & Entertainment
Tom Baker who played the Doctor longer than any other actor
tv
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival

film
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

    It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

    Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
    Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

    Migrants in Britain a decade on

    They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
    Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

    Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

    The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
    Why musicians play into their old age

    Why musicians play into their old age

    Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
    How can you tell a gentleman?

    How can you tell a gentleman?

    A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
    Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

    Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

    The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
    Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

    Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

    Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
    Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

    Sam Wallace

    Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
    Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

    Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

    Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
    Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

    Through the screen

    British Pathé opens its archives
    The man behind the papier mâché mask

    Frank Sidebottom

    The man behind the papier mâché mask
    Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

    Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

    Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
    Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

    Boston runs again

    Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
    40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

    40 years of fostering and holding the babies

    In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents