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Garrick Theatre

ORLANDO at the Garrick Theatre



“The whole show has a fey enchantment to it that will appeal to many, even if the main character remains an enigma”


In this adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s uncategorizable novel Orlando, adaptor Neil Bartlett has taken the unusual step of putting the author on stage. Not content to offer us just one Virginia Woolf though, he offers us nine. It’s a clever way to tip off the audience that Orlando is no ordinary biography of an Elizabethan young man, and that his creator is no ordinary writer. In this joint production between Michael Grandage and Nimax Theatres at the Garrick Theatre, audiences have the opportunity to see Emma Corrin (fresh from her success on TV in The Crown) on stage as the hero/heroine Orlando. Corrin is surrounded by a cast of performers who shift from character to character, gender to gender, and age to age. They are all as chameleon like as the eponymous character in Woolf’s classic novel.

Wait a minute, I hear you say, hero/heroine Orlando? What does that mean? For those who haven’t read Woolf’s Orlando, the story goes something like this. An aristocratic young man, born in 1581 at the height of the Elizabethan Age, wakes up to find he has transformed from male into female after a particularly hard night partying in Istanbul where he is the English Ambassador to the Turkish Court. Lady Orlando, as s/he now becomes, returns to England to find at first hand, all the difficulties of living while female. From inheritances she cannot claim; clothes she cannot wear, and a husband that she must take, Lady Orlando struggles through the Georgian, Victorian and finally, early twentieth century, asking the unanswerable: Who Am I? Did I mention that Orlando is also a time traveller, and ages only twenty years in four centuries? What Virginia Woolf has given us in Orlando is a novel that isn’t science fiction, or a biography. Written in 1928, it is, instead, a thinly disguised celebration of her lover, Vita Sackville-West, and part of a series of revolutionary writings on a woman’s right to self-expression and self-determination. What makes it revolutionary, even today, is that Woolf sees these aims through the eyes of a human who can experience life through the perspective of shifting gender.

Adaptor Neil Bartlett has set himself a complex and challenging task with Orlando. First there is Woolf’s novelistic prose style and the lavish descriptions, as Orlando is not just a courtier, but a poet. How do you transfer Woolf’s prose style to the dramatic language of the theatre? To his credit, Bartlett gets around the problem by bringing on all those Virginias to make Orlando’s case for him/her. Corrin, as Orlando, is an actor up to the challenge of making Orlando come alive on stage. Corrin’s portrayal of Orlando’s innocence and naivety contrast sympathetically with the ever changing cast of characters who attempt to use Orlando for their own ends. They fail because Orlando is outside their experience of humans. And it is this, paradoxically, that makes the production ultimately unsatisfying. It’s because no one, including Orlando, has a really good answer to the question “Who Am I?” Orlando becomes a narrative, rather than a drama, relying heavily on quotes from Woolf, Shakespeare, Pope, and others, to create settings, rather than a plot.

Bartlett shows his theatrical skills in Orlando not so much as a playwright, but in his previous experience as a director. It is in direction that this production really sparkles. And as a director, Michael Grandage’s experience and artistry shows in the way he gathers together his talented cast of eleven, and gives them the space to shine in a variety of roles on a bare bones stage. The stage is populated from time to time with beds, backdrops, and costume racks. (Set and costume design by Peter McIntosh). Just enough to set the scene among a host of short scenes as the centuries pass. Deborah Findlay as Mrs Grimsditch is the one constant in Orlando’s life, mysteriously appearing at random moments to advise on everything from appropriate dress to the date. She also provides a quick sketch of historical events to bring young Orlando (and the audience) up to speed. Findlay’s performance is both endearing and accessible—allowing everyone to anchor themselves among the shifting seas of Woolf’s imagination. The whole show has a fey enchantment to it that will appeal to many, even if the main character remains an enigma.

There are lots of theatrical moments in this production of Orlando, and the Garrick Theatre is the perfect space to show them off. There’s a lot of sly humour in the dialogue as well. This show is a good choice if you’re looking for something different from the usual ballet and pantomime offerings this holiday season. If you’re intrigued by the idea of Virginia Woolf reinterpreted for the stage, why not give Orlando a chance?



Reviewed on 6th December 2022

by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Marc Brenner



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Myra Dubois: Dead Funny | ★★★★ | September 2021


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The Tempest

The Tempest


Shakespeare in the Garden – The Turk’s Head

The Tempest

The Tempest

Shakespeare in the Garden – The Turk’s Head, Twickenham

Reviewed – 25th September 2020



“The cast is definitely not short of energy and enthusiasm, and, as an audience, that is infectious”


Open Bar have been putting on Shakespeare productions in pub gardens since 2015; their mission statement, clearly set out in the digital programme, is ‘to create fun, clear reinventions of the Bard’s best’ which both ‘Shakespeare aficionados and first timers’ can enjoy. Six actors take on the multiple roles, with all the fast and furious costume changes you’d expect. The text is sprinkled with contemporary references and direct address, and the actors steer the Shakespearian ship with barrels of ‘lets-all-have-a-great-time’ gusto. The cast is definitely not short of energy and enthusiasm, and, as an audience, that is infectious. The problem lies with the fact that frequently the actual play gets lost in the fun.

Given that the rambunctious approach is clearly Open Bar’s brand, The Tempest seems an odd choice. The late plays are all a good deal more cerebral in tone, and The Tempest is no exception, taking on such mighty themes as colonisation and the nature of power and forgiveness; it is also, in many ways, Shakespeare’s examination of his own art, and the power of theatrical magic to transform. Whilst a pub garden on a chilly Autumn night may not be the right place for a deeply political take on the play, there could have been a lot more made of the magic, and, highly skilful though it undoubtedly was, Ariel’s aerial athletics were no substitute for the astonishing conjuring tricks of the language itself. Nicky Diss’s direction relied heavily on Vicky Gaskin’s movement direction, and too often the text was lost in the physicality of the performance. At times, this meant a lack of clarity with regard to plot, and at others, lack of poetry. At no point in the production did ‘the enchanted isle’ genuinely seem a place of wonder.

That said, there were some terrific moments, and some fine performances too. Special mention here to Jessica Alade (Miranda/Antonia) who spoke the verse with subtle poetry and exceptional clarity, and to Adam Courting, who’s Prospero, although perhaps lacking in power, was a highly engaging and charismatic mischief-maker. The Tempest’s comedy duo – Stephano (Thomas Judd) and Trinculo (Nathaniel Curtis) – worked well together, though Trinculo’s mincing campery made somewhat uncomfortable viewing in 2020 and did seem a jarring directorial choice.

Seeing theatre at the moment is a headier and more complex pleasure than in pre-COVID times. The joy of being there at all is, of course, intensified, and it was and is heartening to see so many people swathed in blankets under a September moon to share the experience of live performance. That experience is bitter-sweet however. The Open Bar team worked social distancing and hand sanitising into their production with their trademark rollicking good humour, but there’s no denying that theatre loses an awful lot without touch. Similarly, although we, of course, all need escape and entertainment in these turbulent times, we ignore theatre’s power to help us understand ourselves, and our human predicament, at our peril.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Headshot Toby


The Tempest

Fuller’s Shakespeare in the Garden continues at various locations until 1st October. Click on image below for details.




Last ten shows reviewed by Rebecca:
The Maids | | Hen & Chickens Theatre | January 2020
Tom Brown’s Schooldays | ★★ | Union Theatre | January 2020
Ghost Stories | ★★★ | Theatre Royal Brighton | February 2020
Since U Been Gone | ★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
The Fourth Country | ★★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
The Tin Drum | ★★★★ | The Coronet Theatre | February 2020
Henry V | ★★★★ | The Barn Theatre | March 2020
Superman | ★★★½ | The Vaults | March 2020
Fanny & Stella | ★★★★ | The Garden Theatre | August 2020
C-o-n-t-a-c-t | ★★★★ | Monument | September 2020


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