Neil Bartlett’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel has plenty of spark, while Michael Grandage’s production draws out an impressive performance from Emma Corrin.

(c)Marc Brenner

I have always felt that the strength of an author’s work lies in the way it can be introduced or re-imagined for those of us living in times years after they wrote their most famous work. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is certainly a strong testament to that and more than proved in Neil Bartlett’s compelling and thoughtful adaptation brought to playful life in this bold production by Michael Grandage.

Covering themes such as identity and sexuality, Orlando follows the adventures of a poet who while bought up as one gender transforms to the opposite gender and lives for centuries from Elizabethan England, through to the Victorian era – right up until the point of author Virginia Woolf’s own tragic death. It is a story that might slightly bewilder (particularly initially during the opening minutes of this production) but its power and poignancy is never in doubt with its relevancy highlighted throughout.

(c)Marc Brenner

From the start Neil Bartlett’s adaptation is makes strong parallels between the past and present and although on occasion some of these moments in blending feel slightly awkward in the way in which they are staged (the very contemporary music used at one point and modern turn of phrase for example) it does make you think about how each of us change our identities and attitudes no matter what age we are. The way in which we are all constantly re-inventing ourselves is certainly something that is at the heart of this production. This adaptation is sharp and insightful throughout – but equally playful in ways that I wasn’t expecting and I enjoyed the way in which Virginia Woolf is still very much at the heart of it all in a variety of forms (through different cast members on stage all at once) to highlight that there are many different aspects to our personalities that we may not ourselves fully acknowledge. To see how Orlando develops and adapts in an attempt to discover who they really are is refreshing and the way in which it is handled in this production is impressive. To say too much about individual scenes would spoil what you need to see for your own eyes and thought processes.

Michael Grandage takes a vibrant and lively approach to this story as it unfolds, each transition between different time periods handled with such seamless elegance and humour (helped by brilliant performances from the cast) but also quirkiness that seems fitting with the story that is unfolding. You get a real sense of the journey Orlando goes on to find a true sense of identity and on a deeper level to figure out how to appreciate and love themselves. Yes early on there are certain points and messages that could be clarified on a deeper level (it is only an hour and thirty minutes long) but soon you are swept away that it doesn’t matter too much. It is a brisk and thoughtful journey that the audience is taken on.

Throughout it all, Emma Corrin as Orlando delivers such a passionate but playful performance that delivers through out. Their attention to detail through every line is and approach into expressing the exact emotion required is really on point – they are by turns passionate and playful. But I equally loved her rapport with Deborah Findlay as Mrs Grimsditch that is extremely natural and somehow endearing as well. Findlay has a dynamic comic timing that is a delight to watch, but equally there is an underlying compassion to her performance and the way in which she handles Orlando that is heartwarming to see.

It is a quirky but poetic production that pays as much tribute to Virginia Woolf as it does to her novel and is certainly a powerful way to introduce a new audience to her work.

By Emma Clarendon

Orlando continues to play at the Garrick Theatre until the 25th February 2023. To book tickets click here.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐