If the usual writerly advice is to always “show, not tell”, then biography is arguably one of the few artistic forms where a certain amount of direct author-to-audience explanation is permissible—even in a fictional biography such as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Edinburgh-based Some Kind of Theatre’s quirky, energetic production of Emily Ingram’s adaptation (which she also directs) arguably benefits from its audience being repeatedly addressed directly by Lucy Davidson’s bright-eyed “Writer”.

this is an entertaining, informed adaptation, which offers enough meat to satisfy the appetites of both those familiar with the book, and those who are not.

Indeed, much of the texture of Woolf’s book is regularly hinted at thanks to the rest of the cast going well beyond their own dialogue, providing a degree of detailed audio-description to aspects of a scene beyond the capabilities of either set or performance space. This enables the company to instead concentrate their limited resources on a somewhat abstract tree, its branches heavy with pages from a printed book, and a giant wall covered by similar pages over which, in turn, childish drawings had been scrawled to give an impression of, among other things, the feel of industrial revolution.

Woolf’s Orlando is essentially a literary critique of the past 300 years, its central conceit being the literary pretensions of the forever young Duke Orlando. Originally a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I—“the once great Queen” now “in the winter of her years”—Orlando survives into the early decades of the 20th century with barely a wrinkle. The only change regards gender; after falling into a deep “strange sleep” Orlando awakes to find he’s now a she. Elsa Van Der Wal provides a genuinely androgynous performance, shifting physicality from strutting young manhood to a more graceful womanhood without unnecessary exaggeration.

Admittedly, while providing numerous opportunities to highlight the hypocrisies of society—then and now—when discriminating between men and women, the essential core character of Orlando remains unchanged, to the extent that you often wonder if it’s really that big a deal as everyone (bar Orlando herself) thinks it is. Nor is it entirely clear the extent to which Ingram believes Woolf’s Orlando is about sexual politics; the print-dominated set dressing emphasises the literary focus, but the frequent gender-flipped casting suggests otherwise. Then again, the latter might be less directorial flourish, more a case of limiting cast availability.

Gerry Kielty, Cailla Makhmudova, John Spilsbury and James Sullivan provide some genuinely strong support in a succession of all-too-briefly glimpsed supporting characters, even if many—the male characters in particular—prove to be little more than pencil sketches at best, with an touch of pantomime exuberance. Otherwise, this is an entertaining, informed adaptation, which offers enough meat to satisfy the appetites of both those familiar with the book, and those who are not.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

Blessed with eternal life and beauty, the Duke Orlando is a celebrated ambassador and Renaissance man. More than anything however, he dreams of becoming a poet. One morning, at the height of his political career, he awakes to discover he has transformed into a woman and that he must learn once again how to navigate society in this new form. Aided by her well-intentioned biographer, can the Duchess Orlando overcome prejudice, politics, and rather restrictive corsetry, and become the great writer she dreams of being?

Fresh from their debut show, The Steampunk Tempest (Edinburgh Fringe 2016), emerging theatre company Some Kind of Theatre are delighted to premiere this original adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s landmark 1928 novel, a masterpiece described as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’. Through symbolism, creative staging, and a brand new script, Some Kind of Theatre aims to translate Woolf's sensual, dizzyingly descriptive prose onto the stage, bringing this strange and beautiful story to life for new audiences.