This stunning 90-minute monologue rescues Virginia Woolf’s tale from the stale confines of gender studies and treats it for what it is: a bloody good yarn.
While the 1928 book – with its possibly immortal gender-fluid title character – can undoubtedly be seen as a treatise on sexuality, or doggedly deconstructed through the prism of Woolf’s own biography, to do so narrows it into a cynical cypher in a way seldom contemplated with work by male authors.
Thankfully this touring show, opening at Norwich Playhouse, instead opens up the rich and very funny surrealist narrative and revels in its power to entertain.
And Rebecca Vaughan’s solo stage presence is desperately entertaining and engaging. She machine-guns out writer and director Elton Townend Jones’ adapted script with verve and emotion, and save for a few cutesy theatrical devices and sound effects, with barely a pause to catch her breath.
It envelopes and entrances you, so you barely notice the minimal set is just a box, chair, and mirror draped with sheets. She makes it so much more. You have to work to watch it and keep up, but Vaughan makes you want to.
We live her encounters with Elizabeth I, promiscuous Russian princesses, dulled 18th century wits, and duller Victorian crinoline outfits, with romps that take in city and country, the English capital and Constantinople. We love, lust, and lose.
We bound decades in a few sentences, both in snatches of Woolf’s prose and in Jones’ additions: 20th century conflicts are miserably despatched with a rattle of gunfire and Orlando appearing to have “mislaid a war, or two”. Such is the brutal contrast between a moment lived and the totality of history.
Vaughan and Jones are fantastic storytellers, and so was Woolf. It’s great to be reminded of that.