‘Orlando: A biography’ was written by Virginia Woolf and published in 1928. It was actually semi-biographical, being based on her lesbian affair with Vita Sackville-West. The young American playwright Sarah Ruhl, who has been nominated for a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize, then adapted the story.
This 2-hour, fun-filled presentation can be seen at The Hayman Theatre Upstairs, Building 102 in the centre of Curtin University, Bentley each evening at 7.00 pm until Saturday 3rd May.
The stage floor and walls are painted in white gloss paint. There are several white wood chairs against the back wall. The play starts in the 16th Century and progresses to the present day. (Set design Leah Mercer, Michelle Endersbee and built by Alessia Glynn, Emily Hughes and Bubble Maynard).
A choir (Emily Hughes, Amanda King, Carlin Monteiro, Miarka Rogers, and A.J. Shugrue) entered in a line. Dressed in white linen, they sang an almost religious chant, as they weaved across the stage. Then to Handel’s music, ‘The entrance of the Queen of Sheba’, an elderly Queen Elizabeth l (Bubble Maynard – strong performance) was carried in on the shoulders of her servant, to her throne. Into the room strode Orlando (Beth Tremlett – excellent), who was immediately attracted by the amorous and very ‘energetic’ affections of the Queen. However, Orlando is a flighty character and soon ‘his’ eye is caught by one of the royal servants. The narrators (Eleanor Davidson, Emily Matthews) who were part of the entourage, guided us through Orlando’s various affairs of the heart – and other regions.
As Orlando stood on the banks of the Thames, he saw a beautiful woman in a long fur trimmed coat and a fur Cossack hat, skating on the frozen river. This was the beautiful Sasha (Mahalia Bowles). The flowing coat and the perfect sliding of the feet gave a faultless effect of her ice-skating. Again, Orlando was immediately in love, only to find that this Russian Princess was about to leave on a ship bound for her home country. On board, the Captain (Declan Brown) would attend to her every need.
As Sasha sailed off, another sexually charged woman, the Arch Duchess of Romania (Daniel Suelto, great comedy performance) also appeared desperate for the love of Orlando.
Will Orlando ever find his true sexuality? Will true love pass him by?
Lighting designer, Chris Donnelly, has perfectly blended the modern LED lights with a line of limelight style spots at the front of the stage; in several scenes, this gave a wonderful Victorian atmosphere to the play. In the ‘garden of Eden’ scene, there were bright stylish, lively projected images created by George Ashforth and Rhiannon Petersen. The sound quality was crisp and enhanced by beautiful, original music composed by Keith Ong and Matthew Tamsitt. The costumes (Eleanor Davidson, Jess Bennett-Hullin), makeup and hair styling (Felicity Meath, Ariel Tresham) were of a very high standard.
Directed by Leah Mercer (assisted by Michelle Endersbee), this play is fast moving, filled with clever well-delivered lines and packed with chuckles. The cast were totally in tune and displayed great chemistry as they worked through this cleverly devised production.
There was one particular outstanding prop, an A3 sized pop-up book depicting Orlando’s house and various scenes from his life. This was a stunning piece of work, a true labour of love, created by Bubbles Maynard.
An unusual but most enjoyable play, certainly not the heavy Virginia Woolf that I expected. Very well produced and acted. Good light-hearted entertainment.