Friday, 12 October 2012

Orlando, Oct 12, 2012 ***

By The Rabble
After Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando
Melbourne Festival
The Tower, Malthouse Theatre, Oct 12 to 27, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 12

Full review after publication in Herald Sun 

Written as a love missive to poet, Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf’s silky, romantic novel, Orlando, tells the fantastical tale of a young courtier to Queen Elizabeth I who decides to stop ageing, and then lives through three centuries, firstly as a man then as a woman.

Co-creators, Emma Valente and Kate Davis, deconstruct Woolf’s narrative, paring it down to a few, essential moments in Orlando’s (Dana Miltins) numerous incarnations, and delivering them as a series of distilled, abstract, imagistic scenes, some of which have a simple beauty.

Interspersed throughout are excerpts from Woolf’s Orlando, her novel, The Waves, and other literary quotes from Gertrude Stein, Emily Dickinson and Sappho.

The pace of Valente’s direction is slow and deliberate, which works for a time, but scenes are too often unnecessarily and frustratingly elongated. 

The movement is stylised and the characters painted with broad brushstrokes, allowing an audience to write its own story over the play’s background tones.


Orlando, costumed in white pantaloons or gowns and in various guises, seduces women and men with tentative, then passionate curiosity.

Miltins is suitably androgenous as Orlando, however, her performance lacks dynamic variation, subtlety and nuance, and her limited vocal range and control cannot sustain the long speeches, particularly the final, extended monologue.

The repetitive rhythm and earnestness of Miltins’ Orlando, is interrupted by some uproarious speeches, the best being Syd Brisbane’s gluttonous, arrogant poet, Henry Greene, and Mary Helen Sassman’s lusty, Russian princess.

The abstract soundscape melds shattering glass, cracking ice, bells and music, while the crisp set design, all shades of white, is lit evocatively and adds atmosphere with a shallow, milky pool, a huge, reflective screen and a wall of ruched, white tulle.

The metaphors of weddings, virginality, and purging are heightened with all characters decked in white being thoroughly drenched by the finale.

The show operates at a low hum throughout and it resonates with gender issues in the 21st century, but, for those unfamiliar with the novel, it fails to sufficiently illuminate Woolf’s Orlando.

By Kate Herbert

Creative Team: Co-creators, Emma Valente & Kate Davis
Director/Lighting & Sound Design, Emma Valente
Set/Costume, Kate Davis
Cast: Syd Brisbane, Dana Miltins, Mary Helen Sassman

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