Orlando: An Autobiography

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is an odd book. Written as a love letter to Vita Sackville-West, it follows a character of changing sex and gender through history, allowing comment on a whole host of issues. If the book itself is odd, then the character Aiden Strickland has created is even more bizarre: a 500 year old, foul-mouthed drag queen who has travelled through time sleeping with a whole host of historical characters and finding him/herself in all manner of situations whilst shouting his/her own lyrics over the original versions of pop classics. Strickland acknowledges the ridiculousness of his act in the opening moments, “Yes, it’s a man in a wig. You can laugh”, and there is a lovely sense of knowingness about the act throughout.

It is down to Strickland’s charm and dedication that the show works at all.

As in the novel, Queen Elizabeth I is revealed to be anything but the Virgin Queen not through Woolf’s own lucid prose, but in – dare I say it – an even camper version than Queen’s own Killer Queen. Much of the plot is moved forward with Strickland’s own versions of pop classics which, whilst being fun, sometimes felt as if they were poorly constructed: it might have been more effective to find a karaoke track rather than simply shouting over existing songs. The way to impress an audience is not usually to shout obscenities at them to the tune of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain whilst delivering something vaguely reminiscent of a lap dance, but Strickland somehow manages to pull it off with a heady dose of charisma.

The recurring transformation between sexes/genders was at odds to the rest of the performance. Where Orlando was once a fun show, it descended into an uncomfortable avant-garde detail-ridden description of “self masturbation”. Had the rest of Orlando not been such an accessible and fun set, this might have been in tone with the rest of the show, but these sections stuck out like a sore thumb.

With the appearance of a singing vagina puppet – oddly similar to Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors – and Virginia Woolf played in the style of Nicole Kidman from The Hours, Strickland brought Orlando to its conclusion. It is down to Strickland’s charm and dedication that the show works at all; whilst there are sections that feel off and the songs could certainly do with a polish, there is no doubt that this is a lovely homage to Woolf’s work.

Reviews by Joanna Bowman

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The Blurb

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando has manifested her/himself as a foul mouthed, 500-year-old drag queen, and isn’t happy about the reputation that precedes him/her. After being blessed by the ‘virgin’ queen, Orlando became immortalised in writing, a collage of personalities, genders and biographies, it’s hard to believe that he/she’s is a real person. Orlando invites you to sit down, shut up, and explore the performances we put on everyday. Hilariously irreverent, Woolf’s gender-bending epic is bastardised into a grotesque cabaret of gender that would make anyone drown themselves in a river. Strong language and sexual themes.

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