Virginia Woolf’s daring and radical novel, Orlando: A Biography, was published in 1928. Under the guise of non-fiction. It charts the incredible life of a young Elizabethan man with a lust and love of life and battle who manages not only to stay young but to live through centuries and change gender in the process. This fantasy that spanned from 1500 to the ‘modern’ times of post WW1 was also supposed to be a love letter from Woolf to Vita Sackville-West. It allowed the author to comment through this fabulous character on the complexities of gender issues in the law and in sex, as Orlando suddenly learns the “privileges and penalties “of being a woman.
The tale has been staged and filmed before, memorably played by Tilda Swinton whose striking androgynous appearance lent itself well to the part. Madeleine Worrall played the main role for this new production without that androgynous look but still made it her own as a cool, confident, and strident yet measured character. Orlando’s duality was shown in the subtle portrayal of two Orlandos on stage – Worrall taking the focus on centre stage, and AGF providing her visible sound effects, drawing attention to her art and echoing Orlando’s words in a beguiling and mesmerising style.
The piece opens with a background of silver cobweb nets like bright rain and Orlando seated on stage, exquisitely dressed in silver grey Elizabethan costume, the noise of his/her pen whose feathers moved like a shivering animal on stage, scraping hauntingly in the background. The silver grey colour theme is full of symbolism - of wealth as well as ephemera – apt for the theme.
This atmospheric performance is full of stunning visuals hinting at eternity. Particularly memorable, is the creation of the frost figures in the ice scene and the illusion of crowds in this two woman show where I doubt I have seen the Traverse stage appear so large. The astonishing and beautiful costumes allowed Worrall to do a kind of reverse striptease as breeches turn to bloomers in her morphing from the man to the woman who starts with an oak tree and ends up being rootless. This musical version of the text is, in this reviewer’s opinion, high art on every level. Gorgeously riveting!
30 September to 2 October, 7.30pm then touring
Post show discussion on 01 October
Tickets £16 (£12 concessions)