A fantastic and fun gallop through the centuries, this is a wonderful production of Orlando. When an ensemble of actors all playing Virginia Woolf fills the stage, complete with the familiar hairstyle, the spectacles, a notebook and pen, it is immediately clear that this is going to be a witty and playful adaptation of the novel, exactly as it should be. The next ninety minutes take the audience from the Elizabethan Court to the frozen Thames of the 1608 great frost, to Constantinople, a voyage across the seas, the Victorian age, and finally to 1928, the year of the novel’s publication.
Neil Bartlett’s adaptation is impressive in its comedy and simplicity, taking the essence of the novel, the movement through time, that existential question of how we know who we are, and filling it with fun. There is a light-heartedness throughout, and yet the play also explores important issues of gender, identity, and the passing of the years. There is no doubt that Virginia Woolf was ahead of her time in writing Orlando, and this adaptation shows us that perhaps we are only just catching up now.
Emma Corrin plays Orlando, a young man who, at the age of thirty, wakes from a long sleep and finds that he has changed into a woman. Corrin’s performance is lively and utterly compelling, giving us a curious character who yearns to experience life and question the world around them.
Orlando travels the centuries first as a man, and then as a woman, and this production plays with costume in a way that I imagine Woolf would find tremendously entertaining. Orlando changes clothes constantly throughout the play, on stage and off, swapping tights for stockings, trousers for skirts, nightshirts for nightdresses. Jeanette Winterson in the programme notes writes that ‘Orlando is a savage satire on sexism.’ This is played out on stage through the transformative influence of clothes, how the simple act of putting on a different outfit can powerfully impact one’s perception and reception.
Deborah Findlay is brilliant as Mrs Grimsditch, a character who is at once narrator, wardrobe mistress, and guide for Orlando throughout the years. She is direct and funny, pointing out the changing conventions of the years, mocking the restrictions of the Victorian era, and rolling her eyes at the many Virginia Woolfs who rush about the stage trying to write their story.
A superb ensemble cast, clever set design by Peter McKintosh, and captivating performances from everyone at stage, this is a play I am sure audiences will return to again and again. It is a short run, however, ending at the end of February, so time, as Orlando knows best, is ticking.
- Based on the novel by Virginia Woolf, adapted by Neil Bartlett
- Directed by Michael Grandage
- Photograph by Marc Brenner
- Cast includes Emma Corrin and Deborah Findlay
- Garrick Theatre
- Until 25 February 2023
- Running time: 90 minutes, no interval