Dalloway

This one woman show retells the story of Mrs Dalloway, with abridgements and additions made to Woolf’s words by director Elton Townend Jones. Unfortunately, this is a story so well suited to the form of the novel that is does not translate successfully into a piece of theatre.

Vaughn’s disgustingly creepy portrayal of the frustratingly inadequate Dr Holmes is as sinister as it is hilarious and really brings the character to life.

Rebecca Vaughn gives a five-star performance, but does so in a two-star show. Woolf’s writing is simply butchered by being read aloud as though each sentence belongs to a particular, singular character. Jones’ restrictive vision for Woolf’s novel causes many of the beautiful ambiguities of voice in Mrs Dalloway to be lost. The capacity for creating distinct and distinctive voices for multiple characters with which Vaughn is blessed becomes the curse of this production.

Where this reduction of Woolf’s lyricism is most extreme, characters become caricatures of Woolf’s figures. This technique does, however, produce some of the strongest moments of the play. Vaughn’s disgustingly creepy portrayal of the frustratingly inadequate Dr Holmes is as sinister as it is hilarious and really brings the character to life. This actor has a wonderful energy which is powerful enough to evoke the presence of over twenty characters. Nevertheless, it remains excruciatingly painful to hear all of Sally Seton’s lines spoken in a brash, overconfident drawl: she becomes a crude caricature of the woman Woolf depicts.

The presentation of certain characters is made cruder still by the use of tech. Sound and lighting is largely minimalistic but becomes uncomfortably over-the-top during many of the sections which embody Septimus’ voice. Not only does this technique feel rather heavy-handed, it also lacks an appropriate sensitivity towards his mental state.

It is of course crucial to consider a production in its own right, as opposed to in comparison with the novel which inspired it. But this show is the book: the majority of its words are Woolf’s, and this play does not deviate enough from its source to allow it to stand as a separate theatrical endeavour, to be praised in its own right. Whilst this play is a wonderful showcase of Vaughn’s versatility as an actor, when it comes to the story of Mrs Dalloway, you’d be much better off reading the novel.

Reviews by Megan Dalton

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The Blurb

1923: The War is over. While Clarissa Dalloway prepares a party in Westminster, Septimus Smith is diagnosed with shell shock, and their memories and dreams magically intertwine with those of 15 other disparate souls this hot blue day in June. Conjuring the hopes and regrets of middle and upper class London, this adaptation of Virginia Woolf's celebrated map of hearts, minds and memories offers a compellingly feminine response to the aftermath of the First World War. Written and directed by Elton Townend Jones (The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe). Performed by Rebecca Vaughan (Female Gothic, I, Elizabeth, Austen's Women).

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