first night

The Waves

Stephanie Stafford braves stormy weather for an original take on Virginia Woolf.

Yesterday’s dark, wet weather seemed terribly apt for the opening night of The Waves, the stage adaptation by Dave Spencer of the experimental novel by Virginia Woolf.

The Waves is a novel told by six characters through a series of monologues, spanning the course of their lives from wondrous, curious (though already quite disturbed) toddlers at nursery, through adolescence, university, adulthood, middle age, and finally old age. They reveal wonderment at the world, yet also disappointment and despair, as they battle with their own demons and try to decipher their self-identity – the simple stage décor of mirrors keeping this leitmotif never far from our minds.
The play is staged in Bede Chapel, which provides an ideal setting; art-deco – the novel takes place in the first half of the twentieth century –, high arched ceilings and whitewashed walls which offer no distractions from the beautiful prose, and at times seems very fitting for the bleak and characters’ stark outlook on life. The musky scent of incense seemed to contribute to the contemplative atmosphere. The echoey surroundings made it at first somewhat difficult to glean every word the actors spoke, but soon into the play the challenging acoustics started to work in their favour, adding resonance to their streams-of-consciousness.
The acting was superb, and maintained an electric charge throughout. The different personalities and traits of the characters were strongly established through the actors’ delivery of the prose. Jess Groocock was the dreamy, wide-eyed and timid Rhoda. Leo Mylonadis, the impenetrable yet obsessively self-aware Louis. Idgie Beau was captivating as the glamourous and vain Jinny, as was Steffi Walker as the passionate yet often deeply disturbed nature-loving Susan. Chris Yeates performed impeccably as the curious character of Neville. In love with Percival, a character we never meet, Yeates is utterly mesmerizing as he portrays the anguish of Neville’s consuming desires and disillusionment with humanity. Mike Clarke was the cheerful, garrulous Bernard, who is totally transformed in the concluding scene as an embittered and disenchanted old man, ready to leave a nightmarish world he now despises.
This is experimental theatre, but the play does not get tied down in metaphor or the abstract; it is completely accessible, follows a strong narrative and moves along with speed. The character’s paint vivid scenes with their monologues; describing the physical beauty of the world around them with poetic prose, providing matter-of-fact social comments on the reasons behind seemingly simple actions, and revealing the deepest despair of their inner souls.
The monologues intertwine, yet there is never dialogue. Spencer has managed to maintain the ostracizing nature of the monologue format, and has yet made a vibrant play out of it. Music and dance add another dimension to the play. Jo Turner has composed a breath-taking score which perfectly accompanies the melancholic moods of the play.  The music is performed expertly. Ruby Lawrence has done a brilliant job at choreographing the dance. The two dancers, Sandra Chan and Monika Kawai, flutter onto the stage, sometimes during the transition of epochs, sometimes as metaphoric suggestions accompanying the monologues.
The lighting was skillfully employed. There is a break-of-day radiance for the opening scene, when the characters are little toddlers in pajamas, yet already observing and commenting on the world and nature around them. For the final scene, lighting is minimal, creating a dark and cloistered effect for Bernard’s concluding soliloquy. In this scene, the piano strikes discordant notes, and the dancers move like alien beings as Bernard faces the ultimate culmination of the dark, unforgiving life.
The Waves is a splendid showcase of astounding student talent, and does great justice to Woolf’s original work. Provocative, intense, and at some points deeply disturbing, yet, on the whole uplifting and thought-provoking – I highly recommend this original piece of theatre. 
Stephanie Stafford

23 November 2012

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