Orlando sees many things in many ways, as a man and as a woman, but even by the end of the play is left grasping at ideas of who they are and what they want. This new adaptation by Neil Bartlett brings to Virginia Woolf’s tale of an individual loving through time desperately trying to find themselves.
The play opens with Virginia Woolf, split nine times, discussing what will come. The stage is stumbled onto by a fifteen-year-old Orlando, who proceeds to crash his way through a snippet of Elizabethan England culminating in a scandalous romance with a Russian princess. But just as love strikes our young Orlando, heartbreak follows impatiently. He flees, taking up the ambassadorship in Istanbul (then Constantinople), before returning to Old Blighty falling into a coma and promptly waking up as a woman. It is this transition that kicks the play into action, Orlando finds her newfound social limitations infuriating and Bartlett (writer) seizes upon Woolfs commentaries to mock patriarchal structures, while also reflecting on the shifting perspectives of gender through time. It is an interesting tapestry of history; the Bartlett/Grandage collaboration weaves plenty of interesting strands, and the threads wander in different directions before eventually tying up loose ends in the twenty-first century with a rare moment of clarity for Orlando.
Front and centre to this production is Emma Corrin, who gives an interesting performance. They are initially unsteady, all over the place and inconsistent, but this does allow for some moments of genuine presence and authenticity. They eventually settle into the character and delve into the nuances of gender that Bartlett’s writing facilitates. It is the shifting gender that sits at the core of Corrin’s performance, and their delicate reconfiguration of themselves is brilliant, exploring what it means to be seen as a woman and a man.
The set presents itself as a dusty, disused old theatre, with gigantic flats sitting turned upstage partially in the wings. The sense of theatricality pervades the rest of the aesthetic of the show, nothing is ever more than a gesture towards what it represents: ridiculous wigs, rollerblades rather than ice skates et cetera. That being said, it is very lavish, and at moments has a delightfully camp feel to it.
All this being said, I wanted to go deeper. At moments it feels like Bartlett’s need to get through all the time periods constricts the depth of Orlando’s character, and especially his relationships. This is somewhat mitigated by the characters who travel through time with him, such as audience favourites Mrs Grimsditch (Deborah Findlay) and Harriet (Richard Cant). However, so quickly are we swept onto the next plot moment that we rarely have time to develop our emotional understanding of the character, and feel with or for them.
I love Virginia Woolf, this is an interesting reflection on the novel. It is as much about Woolf’s relationship with the book as it is about the book itself. The relationship of the nine Virginias to Orlando is fascinating, and while I am left wanting more emotional oomph, I did enjoy this.
Review by Tom Carter
“Nothing is any longer one thing”
ORLANDO tells a story like no other. Born in the reign of Elizabeth I, its hero-heroine journeys through five centuries and a myriad of encounters in search of the answer to just one question; how do any of us find the courage to truly be ourselves?
Michael Grandage directs Emma Corrin in Neil Bartlett’s joyous new adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s modern masterpiece – Orlando. Leading an eleven-strong company in a bold new staging, Olivier Award nominee Emma Corrin returns to London’s West End in one of the most surprising stories in the English language. An inspiring vision of all bodies having equal rights to love.
Cast: Emma Corrin (Orlando), Deborah Findlay (Mrs Grimsditch), Jessica Alade (Virginia, Drunken Tory), Debra Baker (Virginia, Favilla, The Captain), Akuc Bol (Virginia, Euphrosyne, Prue), Lucy Briers (Virginia, Queen Elizabeth, Officer), Richard Cant (Virginia, Harriet, Kitty), Melissa Lowe (Virginia, Drunken Tory), Jodie McNee (Virginia, Marmaduke), Oliver Wickham (Virginia, Clorinda), and Millicent Wong (Virginia, Sasha, Nell)
Direction: Michael Grandage; Set and Costume Design: Peter McKintosh; Lighting Design: Howard Hudson; Composer and Sound Designer: Alex Baranowski; Movement: Ben Wright; Associate Director: Anna Girvan; Casting: Jacob Sparrow
MGC and Sand and Snow Entertainment present
FROM THE NOVEL BY VIRGINIA WOOLF
ADAPTED BY NEIL BARTLETT
2 Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 0HH
26 November 2022 – 25 February 2023