How does one go about staging Virginia Woolf’s Orlando? A novel that transcends gender, time and space while also being a satire of English literature? It seems an interesting, difficult challenge, scattered with potential pitfalls and underdeveloped ideas, but it is one that this week’s Corpus mainshow has risen to. It is a beautifully conceived production, brimming with potential, both funny and thoughtful despite some opening night hiccups.
The production starts in darkness, perhaps for too long, but it succeeds in creating anticipation, an anticipation which only grows as the cast, excellently costumed by Anastasia Joyce and Coral Dalitz, takes to the stage and jumps straight into an energetic and playful frenzy. Orlando herself, played with great aplomb by Georgina Taylor, emerges from this tumult with a beautifully expressive face and a great sense for comic timing. From beginning to end, Taylor is relentless, perfectly balancing the highs and lows of her character, but also shrewd in tackling how Orlando develops during the events of the play without losing his/her intrinsic nature and personality.
This play is not, however, an exhibition piece for its lead. The entire ensemble works well as a team, and consequently, moments where they run around to convey atmosphere or move their bodies simultaneously are a joy to behold. Alice Tyrrell is excellent in the role of the Queen, and manages to make a well-worn character completely her own, while also particularly of note in the chorus due to a great air of stillness and confidence that she was able to exude from beginning to end. Rosy Sida as the Archduke was also noteworthy, though only just managed to toe the line between caricature and being a little too flashy in her performance. She was sometimes eating her words, which was a shame for she more than earned her fair share of belly laughs. Pol Bradford-Corris and Juliet Martin round out the cast, both charming and competent in their roles, though overshadowed by the excessiveness of the other cast members when part of the chorus. Bradford-Corris, in particular, has a great physicality and stage presence but they did seem to suffer a little from first night nerves.
A couple of times, the performance felt a little too naturalistic and simultaneously lacking in emotional depth, but that is the nature of the piece. Some staging decisions were excellent in theory but failed in practise. For example, the use of shadows behind a screen where it might have perhaps worked better if those holding the sheet had used their feet to assist themselves in holding it taut. There is also a mild tendency towards the group being staged together too tightly, where more imaginative use might have been made of the space available to them. Finally, character was broken a few times and lines spoken over one another. Most of these mistakes, however, do seem likely to be ironed out in subsequent performances and it didn’t take away from the enjoyment or the potential of the production.
Orlando at the Corpus Playroom is well worth buying a ticket for: an exciting and sensitive production, a talented cast brought together by a strong director with a clear eye as to how to convey meaning and nuance. It is not flawless but one of the best shows of the academic year.