Sunday, 23 March 2014

Orlando @ The Royal Exchange, 25.02.14

Virginia Woolf’s time travelling love story has been adapted by Sarah Ruhl for modern audiences, and the resulting play will garner their awe and amusement. Orlando, the hero, is pursued by many types of passionate and determined women, for he has the most enchanting calves ever seen on a young man: even Queen Elizabeth the 1st is not immune to his charms.

Suranne Jones, as Orlando, demonstrates fluidity and flexibility in presenting a rollercoaster of emotions through Orlando’s highs and lows, as well as through her ability to inhabit different gender roles. In the beginning we meet Orlando in the Elizabethan age – with its different ‘morals’, ‘climate’, ‘poets’, and ‘vegetables’ – and Jones plays the young, impressionable and excitable male Orlando to perfection. Later we are introduced to the female Orlando, now age thirty, elegant and lovely as she wakes after a very deep sleep of seven nights in exotic Constantinople.

Orlanda is a character of great dichotomies: sometimes words fail Orlando, like when he meets Sasha (Molly Gromadzki) and he needs “another landscape” and “another tongue” to describe what she means to him, but sometimes he is able to chat all night, surrounded by those who adore him/her. Sometimes he is in love and on top of the world, but sometimes his heart breaks like on the last day of the sixteenth century where he is grief-stricken and “done with women.”

Much of the humour is provided by the chorus (Richard Hope, Thomas Arnold and Tunji Kasim) as they narrate the magical adventures of Orlando and his many loves. The chorus are sometimes serious, other times caricaturising, always entertaining. They are vital in illustrating descriptive and dramatic elements, as well as some wild action and seasonal changes, and the non-stop lyrical lampooning keeps the audience highly amused.

The beautiful skating sequences with Sasha are unusual and impressive, as she and Orlando depict how they skated through London further and further away from court – a wonderful piece of directing from Max Webster. Their adventures lead them to mingling with the common folk, encountering fortune-tellers and watching Shakespeare’s Othello being staged (a poignant parallel moment for the theme of jealousy strikes a chord with Orlando).

A special mention also for Isobel Waller-Bridge, the composer and sound designer, for the musical elements are perfected to present the distinctive moods experienced by Orlando. The costume design is also consistent to the time-travelling theme: the magnificent outfits reflect the changing times over many eras, thus the audience can keep up with Orlando’s travel through time.

This is a play for lovers of poetic language, who will be mesmerised by the narration of Orlando’s loneliness and deep passions, as well as by the grand descriptions of the ships on the sea and of frosty cold London with its weird and wonderful inhabitants like “the riff-raff” (who actually smell better than the Queen). Orlando is a fantastic, fun and well thought-out production, well worth seeing.

Words: Sadia Habib

Image: Courtesy of The Royal Exchange

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