Review: ORLANDO, Garrick Theatre

Emma Corrin is captivating in this time-travelling romp

By: Dec. 06, 2022
Review: ORLANDO, Garrick Theatre

Review: ORLANDO, Garrick Theatre Virginia Woolf wrote Orlando, a time-travelling, gender fluid romp, as a thinly disguised love letter to her lover Vita Sackville-West. The book is fun, carefree and wildly imaginative, crossing centuries of history and featuring a house with 365 rooms, a frozen Thames and a central character who changes sex from male to female.

On the surface it might seem impossible to adapt for the stage, but Neil Bartlett and director Michael Grandage have achieved a warm and witty play that is also a welcome antidote to today's culture wars.

We meet Orlando as a young, male Elizabethan aristocrat, moving to a Jacobean London where Orlando falls in love and then loses mysterious, ice-skating Russian Sasha. Then to exotic Constantinople where Orlando appears to die, but no, he is now a she, and begins to see all the changes in how she is addressed and what she can do as a result.

Back in London, she seeks pleasures by dressing as a man, moving to the buttoned-up restrictions of Victorian society and ending in 1928, the year that all female British citizens aged over 21 were finally allowed to vote.

Emma Corrin is intensely charismatic as Orlando, naturally comfortable on stage and effortlessly cheeky. They have a casual insociance as a man, but also show a real frustration at the strictures and limitations placed on women. It is a truely thoughtful performance.

Deborah Findlay gives a very meta performance as servant Mrs Grimsditch. Her panto-esque refrain of "boys and girls and everyone" borders on the repetitive, but she shows huge comedic flair and gives real heart to the character. The ensemble cast is very strong, particularly a quivering Richard Cant as Archduchess Harriet.

At a time when gender can be such a divisive topic, it is wonderful to see a play that has gender fluidity at its heart, but lacks any toxicity or venom. To see Orlando morph between sexes feels natural, not forced; the production is the very essence of inclusivity without being in any way political.

Neil Bartlett's joyful and witty adaptation uses period and contemporary prose and a very clever element of a diverse chorus of nine actors, dressed identically, to play Virginia herself, who acts as a narrator/director of the show. However, at just 90 minutes, it does feel as though there was scope to make it longer and made further use of Woolf's rich material.

The creativity of Grandage's pacy production is a good testament to Woolf; imagination is key, with Peter McKintosh's almost bare set, which uses a variety of cloth backdrops and a rotating bed as props to distinguish the wide variety of settings. A few scenes feel a little static, but this is more than made up for by the exuberance of the cast.

Howard Hudson's lighting is an essential part of the journey, taking us from a bluey-white frozen London to the yellow-tinged warmth of Turkey. The final scene where Orlando walks into a bright white light is beautiful.

This is a giddy and enthralling production of a unique story that feels like a breath of fresh air.

Read our interview with Neil Bartlett here.

Orlando is at the Garrick Theatre until 25 February 2023

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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