Garrick Theatre, London – until 25 February 2023
Reviewed by Celia Armand Smith
Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel Orlando is so brimming with relevance, it could have been written in 2022. Set over four centuries, Neil Bartlett’s adaptation directed by Michael Grandage is a colourful collage of gender, time and place.
The play opens with a chorus of Virginia Woolfs on the stage, the “biographer” of the piece, ever present and guiding us through the eras; starting with the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages, on to 17th Century Turkey, and finally to Victorian London. Alongside the Virginias is Mrs Grimsditch (Deborah Findley), the dresser/chaperone/gal pal of Orlando. Pantomime-esque, bulldozing the fourth wall, and providing a lot of the laughs, Findlay ties much of the action together. The ensemble all take on multiple gender fluid roles, in particular Millicent Wong Orlando’s royal Russian lover Sasha, and Richard Cant as the veiled Archduchess Harriet.
Emma Corrin is a tour de force as Orlando, joyfully travelling through time and place, and bringing humour and heart to each iteration of the character. From the cocky adolescent boy right through to the confident Victorian woman striving for independence, Corrin plays each role with a deft hand, nimbly navigating the centuries.
The set and costumes by Peter McKintosh are beautiful and work perfectly in unison with the sound and lighting by Alex Baranowski and Howard Hudson respectively. Each element is another member of the ensemble. One of my favourite descriptions in the book is of The Great Frost of 1609, and this is illustrated simply and elegantly with light and a low mist.
90 minutes seems too brief to do the novel justice and to give the cast the chance to sink their teeth into the material. Having said that, it was a most enjoyable experience and one that freely explores gender and identity without toxicity. Goodness knows we need some joy and a true celebration of a life (lives) well lived, and Orlando certainly delivers on that front.