Review: Orlando, Garrick Theatre

Emma Corrin is excellent and Deborah Findlay is even better in this thought-provoking Orlando at the Garrick Theatre

“If that woman’s changed her linen since the Armada, my name’s Sir Walter Raleigh”

When I saw Sarah Ruhl’s version of Orlando in Manchester back in 2014 with the excellent Suranne Jones at the helm, I opened my review by confessing I’d neither read the book nor seen the film. 8 years on, I’ve still yet to do either but at least now I’ve seen a theatrical version to get me up to speed beforehand. This time, Orlando arrives in the West End courtesy of an adaptation by Neil Bartlett and the Michael Grandage Company, a bold piece of programming and featuring another impressive lead performance.

Emma Corrin shimmers as Orlando, the figure at the heart of Virginia Woolf’s novel and in a multi-layered but never over-complex search for identity, they distil the purity of that intent. At a moment when the discourse around trans issues has become so overbearingly toxic, there’s something here that everyone should find so refreshing, the necessity for personal freedom, the power in knowing who you are and being accepted for that. Corrin brings this to the stage and so much more, a playful spirit of fun underscoring their work too.

Deborah Findlay offers the kind of dry wise-cracking support you dream of as Mrs Grimsditch, their housekeeper who unblinkingly accompanies Orlando on their journey through time and space and trying to keep their young charge rooted as they encounter any number of historical and literary figures, have their heart broken and occasionally wake up a different gender. Cannily, Bartlett and Corrin show us that the biggest change is ALWAYS in the reactions of others, the subtleties of the shifts in Corrin’s performance beautifully played.  

Peter McKintosh’s set design looks a dream in the Garrick, particularly under the inventive lighting work from Howard Hudson. And the multi-roling ensemble are a joy, especially when they play a chorus of Virginia Woolfs, adding the wonder of her authorial voice into the mix which further deepens the play’s conversation. I understand how some might wish it weren’t cis men writing and directing here, and others might long for an extended running time so that it isn’t all quite so rushed, but there’s so much to enjoy and appreciate. If only it could genuinely open and change minds…  

Running time: 85 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner
Orlando is booking at the Garrick Theatre until 25th February

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