By Pascal van Liempt, Second Year English
Falstaff Theatre's adaptation of Virginia Woolf's, Orlando, transcends time in their excellent contemporary take on the twentieth-century novel.
Dubbed 'the longest and most charming love letter in literature' by Nigel Nicolson - the son of Virginia Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West - Orlando is a novel which breaks all contemporary perceptions of biological sex and sexual orientation. Woolf's titled protagonist, Orlando, changes gender throughout the novel, a change which does not seem to matter to either them or their partners. Adapted by Jasmine Silk, Falstaff Society presents their own take on Orlando, and to say I was excited to review was an understatement!
Firstly, the acting was incredible. Eden Peppercorn, who played the male version of Orlando, was especially amazing – playing the part with just the right amount of eagerness and clumsiness belonging to teenage Orlando, whilst also managing to combine this with the nobility belonging to a man of his standing. Both male and female counterparts of the character Orlando were played by two different actors, with one speaking narration whilst the other played the character, with these roles interchanging throughout the play. They worked incredibly well together, with a smooth transition between both. I also really liked how through this construction the narrator changed from third-person to first-person – this is a change from the novel, which I thought connected the narrator more intimately to the events on stage.
Sophy Taylor was equally great as Sasha, and I loved her reappearance on stage once Orlando changed gender – it tied together and interwove the two Orlandos greatly, and putting a real focus on the intimacy present between Orlando and their lovers. Livvie Newman and Jason Palmer (as Mrs Grimsditch and Mr Dupper) were hilarious – their comedic timing was brilliantly on point, and served to provide excellent moments of comic relief without distracting from the main plotline. In addition to this, a sizable portion of the cast had multiple roles, which they handled impressively well – each character’s demeanour and stage presence were distinct and well fleshed out.
Between scenes, the cast came on stage for a dance routine, made up of exaggerated gestures rather than an established dance style. This both served to provide successfully smooth transitions between scenes and helped convey the passing of time during the narrative (which spans across three centuries). The sound choices were well thought out and worked well, particularly the soundtrack's inclusion of contemporary current music – emphasising the time-travelling aspect of Orlando’s character, and providing a delightfully original adaptation of the novel. At times, though, the sound effects drowned out the end of a character’s line – accidentally obscuring some lines. Overall, though, sound and lighting worked very well with the rest of the production.
The costume design was very impressive – the outfits of the cast fit together wonderfully, and were noticeably historical whilst not tying the character’s aesthetics to a specific era too much (which is important considering the passing of time spanning across the narrative). I particuarly liked the significance of the switching of rings between the two Orlando's midway through the performance; this neatly tied both Orlandos together very nicely.
I had high expectations of this adaptation from the Falstaff Society Theatre, but it certainly lived up to all expectations – the acting was incredible, especially for an all student cast, and despite some errors in timing of sound effects, the movement, sound and costume choices all fit well together and added to the narrative of the performance. Where the production noticeably strayed from the novel - such as the change in narratorial perspective - it improved the narrative rather than removed anything from it. Altogether, I had a great evening, and left the Pegg Theatre very impressed.
(Featured image credit: Falstaff Theatre / Seb Flatau)
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