Orlando, St George's West, Edinburgh
Wednesday 24 August 2011
Adapting Virginia Woolf's fantastical novel, which follows the title character through four centuries and a sex change, is no mean feat.
It has the potential to be epic, but Darryl Pinckney's script for theatre company Cryptic goes in the other direction, turning it into a one-woman show. Woolf's words are delivered in crisp direct address to the audience, as Orlando relates her extraordinary life story.
This does mean the ironic, witty distance of Woolf's narration is sometimes lost, and the more poetic passages, when delivered from Orlando's own mouth, can sound overly portentous. I wonder how much sense it would make if you didn't know the novel; with such a dextrous plot, zipping across continents and historical eras with hosts of changing characters, it's no wonder that at a little over an hour the production at times feels stretched and frayed. But there's a strong performance from Judith Williams and the decision to turn it into a one-woman-show is a bold way to forge a truly new piece of theatre from a well-loved written text.
The other notable element here is the music – an 'original soundtrack' from composers Craig Armstrong and AGF (German sound artist Antye Greie), it is an electronic, rhythmic thing, utilising both the sort of deep bass more usually found in a drum'n'bass club and whispery, expressive, repetitive vocals. It all sounds a bit like Medulla-era Bjork; not an obvious direction to go in, but it adds a vibrant extra layer for conveying emotional states, a sense of place and passage of time.
Video projections onto five streams of white silk are used in a similar way. There's nothing too literal or expositional, but strange, shifting images evoke place, movement, feeling. This offers a nice counterpoint to the music and to Williams' declamatory delivery of vivid but occasionally dense passages of description. If anything, the projections are underused – the slightly bloodless early scenes particularly might have been enlivened by extra filmic material.
This staged Orlando is a strange creature, but then so is the novel, and ultimately the show succeeds on its inventive spirit and evocative approach, while Williams proves quite capable of galloping us through Orlando's extraordinary life.
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