DAVID Thacker has built his reputation at the Octagon with American classics.

First All My Sons, and then others including, probably most notably, A Streetcar Named Desire, and now Edward Albee’s 1962 classic, which follows in the tradition of those bleakly witty plays.

What differs in this production, however, is just how funny the characters are.

Margot Leicester and George Irving, as Martha and George, spar expertly, throwing lines at each other as carelessly as a couple of prize fighters.

Neither hold back in the slightest, and their performances are painful to watch, but at the same time the laughter doesn’t stop . . . or at least not until the final, heartbreaking moments.

To watch the pair of them on stage is akin to seeing dancers quickstepping on ice, with all the potential for chaos controlled into a fluid and breathtaking dance, the viciousness of their barbed discourse disguised by the grace with which it is delivered.

Taking on the roles of the younger couple, Nick and Honey, who are forced to play along with George and Martha’s peculiar games, are Octagon regular Kieran Hill and newcomer Tammy Joelle.

The roles are by necessity overshadowed by the horror of the central couple, but Joelle in particular is a delight, as wide-eyed and bushy tailed as a squirrel in the headlights of a juggernaut, her face expressive yet never cartoonish.

Hill’s performance is at its best when his character locks into banter with George, but on other occasions needs to be more full throttle and truly attack the script.

So funny, yes, exhausting, clever, elegant and horrific, Thacker’s Woolf will only further his reputation as a specialist in American drama, and strengthen that of the theatre, which he has revitalised so impressively in the last three years.

Until October 15.