first night


Charlie Keable watches Castle Theatre Company take on Virginia Woolf's gender-bending masterpiece.

 I have to admit the idea of reviewing Orlando was a daunting one. Arguably one of Woolf’s most famous texts and one that crosses multiple eras while addressing love, life and gender; I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to put it on! Orlando tells the story of you guessed it, Orlando, a wanna-be poet who ages only 36 years over his 500 year life-span and after a 6-day nap turns into a woman.

Gaunt was completely engaging as Orlando, however her initial energy level was too great and made the first scene slightly jolting. I was also surprised when Orlando was described as 16 as Gaunt’s performance seemed to be of a much younger boy and this remained the case for the next few scenes. This level of energy also meant that Orlando’s first emotional scene perhaps lost a little of its impact due to the lesser energy change. However, all these minor qualms were forgotten as Gaunt sank into the role; for instance, her transition into a woman was just beautiful. I must also say, Gaunt absolutely shone in the later, most emotional scenes. She was completely watchable and commanded the stage throughout the production.

Orlando’s great love Sasha was played by Angharad Phillips. Phillips played Sasha with incredible grace and poise and gave the character of Sasha a Bond-Girl-style mysterious sexualisation. Her compelling and strong performance made her scenes with Gaunt some of the most intriguing, the dynamics of the characters’ relationship was extremely clear and Sasha’s betrayal became all the more heart-wrenching.

The ensemble was made up of, for the most part, Victoria Bull, Alexander Marshall, and Bróccán Tyzack-Carlin, who were consistently hilarious. Victoria Bull was wonderfully dry and this combined with a peculiar intonation made her performance rather brilliant. The same goes for Bróccán Tyzack-Carlin, his comedic-timing, booming voice, and thick eyebrows meant that he certainly stood out comedically, that was at least until Victoria ceased to be the queen and joined the ensemble. Unfortunately in their credited roles there were certain qualities that meant the performances lost some believability. I felt the frailty of the queen was not visible in Bull's physicality and her voice was sometimes a little uninteresting. Tyzack-Carlin was sometimes extremely rigid and looked rather uncomfortable onstage. As the duchess, he also very clearly drew off previous roles and the mannerisms of previous characters were clear to see. It would have been nice to see a more distinct character variation. Alexander Marshall’s deadpan portrayal of various ensemble characters balanced Tyzack-Carlin and Bull’s performances effectively. However, he stood out more in his credited role of Marmaduke. His performance was sweet and calming and he subtly hinted to Marmaduke’s previous gender which must be commended. Special mention must also go to Henry Gould and Talor Hansen who played the woman and the man respectively. When they first appeared I was concerned as their outfits seemed rather over the top, however by the end I had completely forgotten their original genders which I found rather amazing. Props also to Gould for moving a heavy table in 6 inch Louboutins.

A point must be made about the use of wigs. This was often clumsy and had a feeling of insincerity. The wigs weren’t used throughout which makes me wonder if they were used at only specific points for comedic effect, which I don’t feel was in congruence with the themes of gender fluidity that ran through the play. I wonder if it would have been more interesting if it was merely the clothes that changed between characters especially considering that the play specifically addresses gender-specific clothing, ‘Thus, there is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them’. The lighting design must be commended: it was simple, subtle yet pretty and appropriate. The white cloth at the back allowed to project many of the colours Orlando was attempting to describe for 500 years.

Andrew Shires' direction was apparent. There were very clear ‘Shire-moments’ of brilliant comedic timing and genius innovation. Particular mention must go to when the couples ‘share in frivolity’ over various film themes. Despite this, the nature of the play made it slightly difficult to follow. By the end I was rather lost and felt quite overwhelmed; I didn’t like the writing, maybe I don’t have the required English literature degree in order to do so, but it was Shires' direction that kept me thoroughly entertained.

29 April 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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