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Orlando by Sarah Ruhl at Jermyn Street Theatre

Like many people, I’ve heard of Virginia Woolf but have never read any of her work. In fact, I’m a complete novice to her writing. This is why I was excited to break my Virginia virginity with a visit to the Jermyn Street Theatre for a production of Orlando. If you have read the original novel – “Orlando: A Biography” – then you will already know what to expect in the story. If like me, you haven’t then I’m going to tell you so little about the play, you will have to see it.

Tigger Blaize, Skye Hallam, Rosalind Lailey, Taylor McClaine and Stanton Wright in Orlando at Jermyn Street Theatre photo by Steve Gregson.
Tigger Blaize, Skye Hallam, Rosalind Lailey, Taylor McClaine and Stanton Wright in Orlando at Jermyn Street Theatre photo by Steve Gregson.

The play follows the life of Orlando (Taylor McClaine), a young person of literary ambitions and noble ancestry who catches the eye of Elizabeth I in the 1590s. In fact, they catch a lot more than that and the virgin queen raises them up in the royal court. Although young, Orlando knows how to make the queen happy and has a good life while she reigns. After Elizabeth’s death, Orlando stays at the heart of the court and during the great frost of 1608, they meet and fall in love with a Russian Princess, Sasha (Skye Hallam) who, as is the way with things, breaks Orlando’s heart. Somehow, Orlando manages to get themselves together and during their very long life, as the world changes, so too does Orlando ending their life a very different person to the one that started it.

Published in 1928, “Orlando: A Biography” was a pretty controversial book dealing with some rather taboo subjects such as gender bias, transgender issues and how, in some respects, the position and expectation of women hasn’t moved as far forward as we think over the last four hundred-odd years. Playwright Sarah Ruhl follows the book pretty closely and manages to fit quite a lot into its roughly 90 minutes (including interval) runtime, and the production is a lot of fun thanks to the combination of Ceci Calf’s set, Emily Stuart’s costumes, Ali Hunter’s lighting and Roly Botha’s sound, all of which not only make the Jermyn Street stage feel a lot bigger than it is but also manage to take the action from the 16th to the 20th centuries with panache and flair.

Director Stella Powell-Jones and Movement Director Elliot Pritchard really use not only the stage but a lovely group of actors to bring the story out. Taylor McClaine is excellent as Orlando and they really make the character loveable and, despite some of the outlandish situations they find themselves in over the course of their life, Taylor manages to keep Orlando believable. In this, they are aided and abetted by the fabulous chorus Rosalind Lailey, Stanton Wright, and Tigger Blaize who between them play everyone else Orlando meets. From good Queen Bess to a randy ship’s Captain and a trans duchess/duke, these three actors switch roles and genders with ease. Maybe there’s a message there that changing gender is not that big a deal and a lot of people need to get over themselves.

OK off the soapbox, Orlando is a great show that addresses many of the issues of today as much as it did nearly one hundred years ago when first written. For me, there were three minor issues. It was too short, I really wanted to know more about Orlando’s life and would have loved more of Skye Hallam who seemed rather under-used. Final moan, while I appreciated the Diet Coke, I’m not really sure why the show had an interval. In fact, when I read the press release it said it ran all the way through, so I was a little surprised that we had the break. However, having said that it’s a really good production with a talented group of actors and creatives that have taken an old tale, made it fun, entertaining and a real conversation piece.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Growing up as an Elizabethan pageboy and skating on the frozen Thames, Orlando never imagines he’ll travel to Turkey. Or get married in the reign of Queen Victoria. Or live long enough to answer the telephone. He definitely isn’t expecting to wake up as a woman one day. But if you stick around for five centuries, life is bound to get interesting…

Virginia Woolf’s 1920s classic was written in tribute to her lover, Vita Sackville West and is adapted by two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and Tony Award nominee Sarah Ruhl.

THE OUTSIDERS SEASON
London Premiere of ORLANDO
BY VIRGINIA WOOLF
ADAPTED BY SARAH RUHL
DIRECTED BY STELLA POWELL-JONES
Associate Director & Movement Director – Elliot Pritchard
Set Designer – Ceci Calf
Costume Designer – Emily Stuart
Lighting Designer – Ali Hunter
Composer & Sound Designer – Roly Botha

28 April – 28 May 2022
https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/

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1 thought on “Orlando by Sarah Ruhl at Jermyn Street Theatre”

  1. Were we at the same performance? Not up to the usual standard at JST where I have seen so many gems. Embarrassing, shouty and Orlando totally miscast. Didn’t convey any gender fluidity at all.

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