Wednesday, 4 May 2022

REVIEW: Orlando at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Hushed tones of reverence surround Virginia Woolf as a leading purveyor of modernist writing and membership of the Bloomsbury Group logically marked her for greatness. However, applying such complexity overlooks her skill as a communicator of ideas. Woolf was years ahead of her time, not only inspiring feminism but the ability to tell stories with great originality. Orlando was published in 1928 and is thought to be one of her lighter novels. It was written in honour of lover Vita Sackville-West, whose aristocratic family history provided the template for this time travelling frolic. This new stage adaptation by Sarah Ruhl gives the novel a makeover with satisfying results.

Our story begins in the 16th Century during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. A three-strong chorus (Tigger Blaize, Rosalind Lailey and Stanton Wright) relate the machinations of Orlando (Taylor McClaine). The nobleman and aspiring poet soon catches the attention of good Queen Bess. Orlando becomes a favourite at court but later falls in love with seductive Russian princess Sasha (Skye Hallam). They romance each other at the frost fair on a frozen River Thames. However, Sasha later returns to Russia and a crestfallen Orlando seeks comfort in his poetry. The years tick by as a new monarch takes the throne; Orlando is later dispatched to Constantinople as an ambassador. Whilst there they fall asleep for many days and cannot be roused. When he awakes Orlando has turned into a woman. As she lives through the centuries what will Orlando discover about the world as a woman?

The Jermyn Street Theatre has another smash on its hands with a bright and witty treatment of arguably Virginia Woolf’s finest work. A lean 90-minute workout on either side of the interval works a treat as a fine cast executes the sharply adapted script. Orlando quickly became an anthem for feminism and is easy to see why it attained seminal status. The title character sees life from both a male and female perspective. When Orlando becomes a woman she retains the same level of intelligence from her life as a man. As the centuries roll by how she is judged as a woman. The passage of time would suggest progress, change and enlightenment. But will Orlando see a different attitude or will she be hemmed in by convention? Like all good adaptations, it sets the story in a format that is more accessible. This is literate, thought-provoking theatre at its very best.

Review by Brian Penn

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: E2 | Price of Ticket: £32/£28 concessions
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