Tag Archives: Virginia Woolf

Orlando

Orlando

★★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

Orlando

Orlando

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 4th May 2022

★★★★

 

“The fine cast of five deliver Ruhl’s honed script with gorgeous vivacity, tongues in cheeks and glints in eyes”

 

It is easy to fall into a debate about whether Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando” would have the same impact as it did nearly a century ago if she had written it in today’s climate. But we’re going to avoid that digression here. Clearly, it’s influence and relevance is as powerful now as it ever was, not just in its treatment of the subject of gender, but as a satiric look at history, literature and convention. Published in 1928, it was one of Woolf’s best-selling books. And the most enjoyable. Woolf declared while writing it that “my body was flooded with rapture and my brain with ideas”. The novel’s popularity and longevity were practically guaranteed before she even put pen to paper.

And it continues. Both ‘high art’ and gossipy at the same time it has been adapted for theatre and film, most notably Sally Potter’s 1992 release starring Tilda Swinton. Continuing the trend is Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Choosing not to compete with the big budgets, this is a playful and low-key reimagining that focuses on the humour and the subtle mischief; without trying to shoe-horn the original story into a contemporary setting.

We begin in the reign of Elizabeth I. Orlando (Taylor McClaine) is born as a male nobleman with poetic ambitions. With dubious motives, the Virgin Queen adopts him as a pageboy, and a plaything, until her death when Orlando promptly falls for Sasha, an excitable and unreliable Russian princess (a wonderfully skittish but underused Skye Hallam). Orlando’s heart is broken by Sasha, so he briefly returns to his abandoned poetry before heading for Constantinople. It is here that Orlando inexplicably falls asleep for days and awakens to find that he has metamorphosed into a woman. Completely accepting of the change, she is the same person, same personality, same intellect, and while she stays biologically female her amorous inclinations swing both ways throughout the ensuing centuries.

There is a lot to cram into an hour and a half of stage time. The fine cast of five deliver Ruhl’s honed script with gorgeous vivacity, tongues in cheeks and glints in eyes. There is an old-fashioned quality that simultaneously has a timeless feel. We are in the past and the present. They are like a bygone travelling troupe of players who have pitched up in Piccadilly. McClaine, in the titular role, is a delight to watch throughout. Star quality is etched across their performance; a performance imbued with a deadpan humour that matches the ease with which the character switches roles, genders and sensibilities.

Tigger Blaize, Rosalind Lailey and Stanton Wright play the numerous other roles and, comprising a chorus, the trio narrate the story with clarity and precise timing, overlapping the narrative and weaving threads of comedy and insight into the dramatic backdrop. At one point, following the throwaway line “… then he was she…”, we almost expect the chorus to launch into Lou Reed’s “Hey, babe, take a Walk on the Wild Side”.

All in all, though, the production is not quite a walk on the wild side. It still remains relatively safe, veering towards the shock-free traditional. It seems that the memo about safety didn’t reach designer Emily Stuart, whose costumes are daring, colourful and brilliant – a highlight of the show – which add to the sense of fun and irreverence.

This adaptation teases out the theatricality of Woolf’s novel. If the innate radicalism doesn’t quite cut through, the playfulness, the wit and the satirical undertows certainly do. “Orlando” was ahead of its time a century ago. Today it is certainly very much of the time. Make time to see it.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Steve Gregson

 


Orlando

Jermyn Street Theatre until 28th May

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
This Beautiful Future | ★★★ | August 2021
Footfalls and Rockaby | ★★★★★ | November 2021
The Tempest | ★★★ | November 2021

 

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Mrs Dalloway – 4 Stars

Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 1st October 2018

★★★★

“a creative and sophisticated production”

 

Hal Coase’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’ opens with a meta-theatrical “pre-amble” as Emma D’Arcy and Clare Lawrence Moody tell us where they live in London and when they first read ‘Mrs Dalloway’. It is a bold and exciting beginning that plays with form, just as Woolf does.

It is the story many know so well, of course. Across a single day in London in 1923, Clarissa Dalloway (Clare Perkins) is getting ready for a party, a party that she will be hosting tonight. At the same time, Septimus Warren Smith, a veteran of the First World War is struggling desperately to separate fantasy and reality, and is looking for help amongst the very people who will later be Clarissa’s guests. It is no easy feat to adapt, but Coase has done a brilliant job, and under Thomas Bailey’s highly capable direction, moments of internal thought and external conversation are wittily punctuated and communicated.

As well as performing in the piece, D’Arcy is the joint artistic director of theatre company Forward Arena and is responsible for the design of all their productions to date. For Mrs Dalloway, this is simple, aesthetic and sophisticated. A blue patch of sky on the back wall is later joined by another patch of sunset. Cream costumes blend into a curtain. Portable cassette players create the bustling sound of London, an overlapping soundscape of people. Bailey creates the party scene with a row of microphones, a cramped panel setup that is highly evocative. Occasional nods to modernity in the form of an iPhone and an Oyster card could work, but stand alone as they are, they feel lacklustre.

The production boasts some wonderful performances. Moody is particularly good. She has a liveliness and a playful energy that she brings to each role in turn. Guy Rhys as Septimus lacks depth and is unfortunately unconvincing meaning the emotional impact of his plight has limited effect. He is, however, the only weak link in an otherwise strong cast.

This is a creative and sophisticated production on all fronts, well crafted and beautifully delivered.

 

Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Ollie Grove

 


Mrs Dalloway

Arcola Theatre until 20th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Heretic Voices | ★★★★ | January 2018
Fine & Dandy | ★★★★★ | February 2018
The Daughter-in-Law | ★★★★ | May 2018
The Parade | ★★★ | May 2018
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives | ★★★★★ | June 2018
The Rape of Lucretia | ★★★★ | July 2018
Elephant Steps | ★★★★ | August 2018
Greek | ★★★★ | August 2018

 

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