Adapting Mrs Dalloway for the stage is no easy feat, given that this classic novel, arguably Virginia Woolf’s most famous undertaking is renowned for using a stream of consciousness technique to get right to the heart of the characters’ thoughts and emotions. Thankfully this latest adaptation by Hal Coase, performed at the Arcola Theatre, meets the challenge head on.

Sean Jackson (Peter) and Emma D'arcy (Rezia) (c) Ollie Grove
(c)Ollie Grove.

Set in the 1920s, Mrs Dalloway takes place on a single day in June and tells the story of Clarissa Dalloway (Clare Perkins) as she prepares to host a dinner party for her wealthy acquaintances. Meanwhile Septimus Warren Smith (Guy Rhys), a veteran of the First World War suffering from post-traumatic stress and haunted by the image of his late friend, spends the day at Regent’s Park with his Italian wife Rezia (Emma D’Arcy) ahead of an appointment with psychiatrist Sir William Bradshaw (Sean Jackson).

Directed by Thomas Bailey, Mrs Dalloway is entertaining to watch, clever right from the moment it begins, when the actors first appear on stage out of character and speak about their first experience of reading the novel. From then on it develops into a fast-paced and innovative play, an intelligent piece of storytelling particularly in terms of portraying descriptions and thoughts of characters. Angst, drama and humour are all wrapped up into one as the play explores difficult subjects, including depression and mental illness.

The small cast is the highlight of this production; the quintet all putting in strong performances and flitting between playing many different characters with style and ease. Clare Perkins is graceful and warm as Mrs Dalloway as she reflects on her life and the people in it; while Sean Jackson and Clare Lawrence Moody equally impress as Peter and Sally, Clarissa’s old friends and romantic interests. Lawrence Moody in particular often brings welcome comic relief to scenes, notably as teacher Miss Kilman, who has taken a particular shine to Clarissa’s daughter Elizabeth (Emma D’Arcy). The scene between Miss Kilman and Mrs Dalloway is particularly amusing and one of the play’s most memorable moments. Guy Rhys plays the troubled Septimus sympathetically, although at times his character’s turmoil feels somewhat understated; while Emma D’Arcy impresses with her emotional performance as Rezia, desperate to save her husband.

The set is incredibly simple but works for the most part helped by both the lighting (designed by Joe Price) and sound effects brought to life through cassette recorders situated around the stage. The dinner party, which was set up more like a press conference, was both surreal and a clever touch. There were one or two crackling microphone issues however, and the odd moment where the action did drag a little. There were also times when attempts were made to bring the play into the 21st century with Oyster cards and Metro newspapers, which seemed to fall flat.

That being said, despite its minor flaws Mrs Dalloway is an enthralling, brave piece of theatre. Although it may help to have read the book prior to seeing the play, it’s not essential, and you’re sure to be entertained by this slick, engaging and well-acted production.

By Kirsty Herrington 

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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