Garrick Theatre, London – until 25 February 2022
Thought to be inspired by Virginia Woolf’s romance with Vita Sackville-West, Orlando depicts a boisterous protagonist whose journey spans five centuries and two genders. Its awareness of gender politics and expectations as well as the way is defies them is really something special, and it’s astounding that Woolf wrote such a groundbreaking piece of work in 1928 and that it remains so relevant now.
Tilda Swinton famously took on the role in the 1992 film adaptation but it’s the superb Emma Corrin who plays the title character in Neil Bartlett’s adpatation. As a non-binary performer, Corrin feels like the perfect fit for this gender fluid role and they do an outstanding job of bringing Orlando to life with wit and momentum. At 90 minutes, it’s impressive how much range Corrin is able to show and as a whole, the production manages to really pack a punch.
Michael Grandage’s intelligent direction gives the show a real buoyancy. The ensemble helps to create the story as it goes and the narration is spread around to give a continual movement. This adaptation also sees Corrin’s Orlando assisted by Deborah Findlay’s Mrs Grimsditch who maintains the pace whilst adding comical insights on the predicaments faced throughout. Much of the script is mischievous and sharp, and there are also some really brilliant homages to other literary and theatrical moments, including a particularly witty nod to Cabaret. Despite not being full of content, Bartlett’s adaptation does a good job of keeping the audience engaged and showcasing what’s there to its fullest extent.
Peter McKintosh’s set design is superbly effective in demonstrating the various eras of Orlando’s life, without being at all over the top or gimmicky. The use of banners, beds and boats is extremely well done and cleverly combined lighting choices (Howard Hudson) and projections not only help emphasise the plot and script, but also add an almost fairy-tale like feel to the whole piece.
That line between childlike dreams and theatrical astonishment is truly the heart of this piece and it allows the audience to ponder some pretty deep topics, whilst also feeling swept along in the magic and mystery of it all. It may not be quite as groundbreaking as in 1928 but this is definitely a show that’s been revived at the right time, with a stellar cast to boot!
photo credit: Marc Brenner