The scene opens with a male Orlando, poised, standing on a table and stretching under a
spotlight as if from a long slumber. Many Virginias appear in her iconic outfit; Hair in a bun,
large framed black glasses, brown blazer, and a long pencil skirt.
This chorus of Woolf is present throughout the play, reciting lines from the text canonically
as if wanting to remind the audience that the main action is all a fabrication of the
mastermind needing to speak from her lips. However, the irony of their being multiple
versions (almost the entire cast except for Corrin and Findlay) is the unity of a singular
authorial identity that is merely an illusion of what the audience may imagine her to be.
Actors changing into other characters and back into Woolf attire carries the existential fog
that distorts what the ‘truth is.’ I can gather that the ‘fact’ versus ‘fiction’ dynamic from the
novel is underlying almost every aspect of this play, from the anachronistic costumes to
comic references to other musicals, such as the line ‘Maybe this time, for the first time, love
won’t hurry away’ from Cabaret, spoken campily by a gentleman playing Harriet who
happens to resemble, from my S5 seat, Joel Grey.
However, I can only imagine how disorientating this is to an audience member not having
read any Woolf and only grasping the one-liner jokes that bear too much resemblance to
current political affairs (Tory gags, etc.). However, it was a miracle that the play in 90
minutes managed even to capture the events spanning hundreds of centuries and love affairs
of the time-defining novel, never mind make any rational sense of it.
The play does this by presenting everything as a chaotic dress rehearsal, with the sets and
times changing just in time for Orlando to reach their next psychological epiphany. The
hardy Londoner wardrobe assistant Mrs. Grimsditch (played by Deborah Findlay) helps put
Orlando in various garbs depicting the century they are meant to be in, beginning with the
16 th up to the 20 th century.
There are multiple costume gags, the most successful being Corrin seductively pulling up her
stockings in front of a shocked naval officer (faithful to the novel’s heavy emphasis on the
erotic qualities of Orlando’s legs).
Millicent Wong plays a stoic and funny Sasha, ‘the white Russian fox.’ Wong shows the
range of her acting as she slips between speaking at least French, Japanese, and English while
her character is wholly Russian. Yet the most impressive aspect of her performance is her
comedic timing with lines such as ‘we make a scandal, no?’. While, as the cockney ‘harlot’
Nell, she is even funnier and more succinct in her delivery. At this point, Orlando is a woman
dressing as a man and attracted to Nell, and, once her gender is revealed to the latter, Wong
tells Orlando, ‘no need to blush, these things happen’ as they embrace.
Place, time, and existentialism are inextricably tied together within the play and Woolf’s
novel. Questions such as ‘how old am I?’, ‘doesn’t time fly,’ and ‘does anything ever
change?’ create a direct relationship between the fast passing of time and the development of
Orlando’s character and sense of identity throughout the narrative. Once transformed by the
‘truth’ of history into a female, only the dress and dates change once again. In contrast,
Corrin puts on a posh, sensual, and vapidly self-aware performance to match the social
ecosystem she is a part.
The actual thesis amongst these comic and tempting distractions, maybe slightly saccharine
and diluted by Grandage for a 21st-century, theatre-going audience. ‘What do you love?’
says Mrs. Grimsditch to Orlando, who responds, ‘I love…wine. Strong, Spanish, red wine.’
This comic moment reveals the initial superficiality of Orlando’s character before
transcending into a final monologue where she admits, ‘I love this place, this city, this
glittering moment that falls out of the sky like a feather.’
Her humanity of insecurity and sensuous joy at the world around her, wrapped in the brilliant
language of the final words Woolf attributes to the hero/heroine, make for an accessible yet
faithful interpretation of the story’s last act. Orlando’s identity as an artist/poet and sufferer
of the problems of fitting in is well-captured by Corrin and the various disguises and voices
With minimal yet stunning visuals and a vast range of talent taking advantage of the
distortion between fact and fiction, it makes for a delightful experience. Even if you haven’t
read the novel, the humor, sets and romance will leave you wanting to see it multiple times,
at least if the tickets were remotely affordable.
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