Hal Coase has adapted Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway for a new production at the Arcola Theatre. He spoke to Love London Love Culture about what to expect… 

Sean Jackson (Peter), Guy Rhys (Septimus), Emma D'Arcy (Rezia), Claire Perkins (Clarissa) and Clare Lawrence Moody (Sally) (c) Ollie Grove.jpg

Thanks so much for talking to me. What can you tell me about the story of Mrs Dalloway for those who aren’t familiar with it? The plot is beautifully simple. On one day in 1920s London, we follow Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares to host a party for high society and reflects on her place in it. On the same day, Septimus and Lucrezia Warren Smith are waiting to meet a Harley Street consultant who they hope will help Septimus overcome the trauma he’s suffered from since the First World War. A million other things make the novel itself a little less simple.

When did you first discover Mrs Dalloway? I read it when I was a teenager and then studied it at A-level. We watched the 90s film adaptation in class and I remember thinking then that it was probably impossible to conventionally ‘adapt’ in a way that was both literal, faithful and satisfying. I still think that.

What was it about the story that made you want to adapt it? It fits a lot of life into one day, and it does that very carefully. That’s something! And Woolf’s sentences often have such a strong rhythm and motion to them that they take off when you hear them out loud.

How did you approach adapting the story? On a practical level, it started with typing out the whole novel in full, reading and rereading continuously, and then gradually reshaping its structure with every new draft. The shape of the adaptation emerged quite slowly as a result, the whole drafting process was spread sporadically across a year or so, but almost all of the text is lifted directly from Woolf and it’s her voice that holds it together. There are some passages from her diaries, essays, and short stories as well as the novel itself.

Was there anything in particular that you wanted to highlight and draw attention to in the story? The questions the novel keeps returning to: what forms our own character and how do we judge others?

How do you think audiences can relate to it in 2018? Woolf wrote in her diary that in Mrs Dalloway she wanted ‘to criticize the social system, and to show it at work, at its most intense’. That hasn’t stopped being essential.

What can audiences expect from this adaptation? I hope Woolf’s lyricism has been given all the space it needs to strike people fully.

By Emma Clarendon

Mrs Dalloway continues to play at the Arcola Theatre until the 20th October. For more information visit: https://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/mrs-dalloway/

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