29 November 2022
ORLANDO (Garrick Theatre) Review
This production of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando” sticks pretty well to the original plot: A young man in the 1500s jumps through time without much ageing and experiences life through the centuries. Moreover, at about 30, whilst serving as a British Ambassador in Constantinople, he mysteriously falls asleep and wakes up several days later with his body transformed into that of a woman, which carries its own set of challenges (such as not being able to own his estate).
Not having had a lot of exposure to Neil Bartlett’s work, I was rather looking forward to his stage adaptation of Orlando. At 90 minutes long, it’s clean and to the point. The text has been streamlined, all tangential storylines of the book have been dropped, and the end result is easy to follow. I felt the focus here was more on identity rather than gender, as Orlando tries to hold on to his wants and beliefs regardless of the body he is in.
My only gripe with the text is the Mrs. Grimsditch character (Orlando’s servant). I understand that she is there to move the plot along and help us with the context of each historical period in which Orlando lands. However, it was too panto and too topical. It reminded me of Kerry Howard in Jack Absolute Flies Again walking up to the stage and talking to the audience. I didn’t like it there, and I certainly liked it even less here. Deborah Findlay did a brilliant job with the role, but the play isn’t a topical comedy. We don’t need this character to roll her eyes with that “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” sentiment at the mention of Torries or to seemingly not be able to cope with the horror of being a Victorian. This character could’ve been subtle and stylish, and it would’ve worked just as well, so rather disappointed with Bartlett’s choices here.
Emma Corrin’s performance was superb. I must admit, I have never seen Corrin in anything (stage, film, TV), so had no preconceptions as to what level of acting I can expect. I loved the cheekiness of the character with an occasional nod to the audience that, unlike Mrs. Grimsditch, never tipped into breaking the fourth wall or playing for a laugh. Corrin’s Orlando, whether man or woman, is head-strong yet delicate, self-assured yet vulnerable, excitable yet sad, and is constantly searching for something that can’t quite be put into words. The range and the power of this performance is seriously impressive.
The rest of the cast are all very capable (each playing multiple roles), with a special shout-out to Richard Cant whose Archduchess Harriet made for a masterful bit of comedy.
It’s also worth making a note about Millicent Wong, who, among other parts, plays Russian princess Sasha, Orlando’s great love. Sasha has a lot of lines, all but a few of which are in Russian. We are not meant to understand what she says (as Orlando doesn’t speak the language and so can’t understand her either). After the show, outside the theatre, I overheard a Russian woman complain bitterly (in English) to her non-Russian-speaking companion about how unintelligible Wong was. It’s an interesting point… I think that, if the character isn’t speaking gibberish so no one understands, actors should be able to get some coaching to enable them to deliver foreign language lines in a passable way. Else why not cast someone who actually speaks Russian?
As for the production itself, I’ve seen enough plays directed by Michael Grandage to know I would probably like the staging and interpretation. He didn’t disappoint. His representation of Virginia Woolf is nothing short of genius. Some people laughed at the start (which I just don’t understand), but once the play got going, it added so much charm to it, I can no longer picture it being done any other way. My only criticism of directorial choices is around Corrin’s tattoos. There are several of them, and I found them rather distracting. Maybe others didn’t, but I would’ve preferred they were covered up when playing this particular character.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £7.
Bonus: There was a “nudity” content warning for this production, and, on the way home, I tried to figure out where it was and how I managed to miss it. Sure, there is one scene where Corrin is sitting in bed naked from the waist up, but we can only see the back, which is hardly nudity: you see more at a local pool. Then it dawned on me: in the very first scene, Corrin runs onto the stage in a long shirt and flashes us a “penis” whilst getting dressed to indicate that Orlando is man. Of course it is a stuffed bit of costume by Peter McKintosh, so maybe a nude costume is nudity after all…