Woolf, theSpace on North Bridge, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Theatre with Teeth
Holly Williams and Sally Wood (writers and directors), Siobhan O'Brien (producer, technician), Hannah Gardner (music score)
Abi Clarke (Virginia), Tobias Grace (Leonard): Ensemble cast: Tamsin Keeley, Niamh Smith, Letitia Harkness, Josh Smith, Jacob Hutchings, Phoebe Newlan
Running time

Surrounded by vintage leather suitcases, higgledy-piggledy piles of papers and books, coats, umbrellas, Virginia sits at her desk studying a handwritten sheet of paper intently. The last letter she wrote is composed with such sincerity and heartache, in which she writes these lines:

Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again. ... I can't even write this properly. I can't read. ...I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. ...I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.

The suicide note to her husband Leonard is a haunting document, her final words and voice preserved on paper, Reminiscing that tragic day, 28 March, 1941, “her death was the worst fatality of this war,” he declares.

The narrative takes the form of a nostalgic dreamscape to explore the private emotions of a literary genius who suffered depression, fantasies and fear: it was her experience of life, dark moods, voices of lost souls which dictated her diaries and coloured her fiction.

The central roles of Virginia and Leonard are performed by Abi Clarke and Tobias Grace, like an eloquent waltz, their memories of love and life, a marriage of true minds, echoed by an ensemble who take us on a choreographed journey, drifting past and present. “ I could say I was happy at St. Ives as a child, the best beginning to life conceivable,” as the dancers run across the beach, rustling books which float like the waves and fly like seagulls, evoking a marvellous sense of place, “my pebbles, my sea.”

Throughout these dream sequences, Niamh Smith portrays the young Virginia with uncanny resemblance, her slender, sweet face expressing both carefree joy and quiet contemplation. As a child she was absorbed by her father’s library, like a lost Alice in Wonderland, where her love affair with reading began.

The rhythmic folk- jazz-hip-hop music score, mime and movement exude her passion for literature and learning as well as a fiery belief in feminism, demanding women’s right for education. Raw grief is illustrated in a poignant scene with her sister Vanessa, and deep emotion is expressed for Vita, her lover, admiring her “full breastedness, as a mother, a real woman.”

“Theatre with Teeth” is a student company from the University of Exeter specialising in experimental, physical theatre and devised drama. “Woolf” clearly demonstrates their talent for improvised, inventive storytelling. However, both text and characterisation require more clarity where the motif of flowing books is overdone, lacking a cohesive, dramatic narrative. Even with a knowledge of her life and work, the audience may be rather lost in moments of manic flights of fantasy.

As a quick sketch rather than a fully painted portrait of Virginia Woolf, this play harmonises dialogue, dance and music to visualise the complex, creative world of her imagination, the recurring image and sound of waves neatly symbolising her life and death from Cornwall beach to the River Ouse.

This enchanting play is sure to entice you to read, or re-read her masterly novels, "The Waves", "To a Lighthouse" and "Mrs Dallway," enriched with her languid, lyrical language.

14 – 26 August, 2017 @ 15.05
Ticket Prices: £7 (£5)
Age guidance:12 +