Originally published in 1928 and considered quite racy in its day, Orlando, based on the life of Virginia Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West is a tale about time travelling, love, gender swapping and the complications that come with this.
Telling the story of much lusted after nobleman Orlando (Suranne Jones) who was born a man in the time of Elizabeth I; we’re led through centuries and continents meeting many intriguing and more often than not lovesick characters along the way. Orlando becomes a woman midway through the journey which allows the audience to view four centuries of life experiences through the eyes of both sexes.
Suranne Jones makes an excellent Orlando, most famed for her TV work in Coronation Street and the BAFTA nominated Scott & Bailey amongst others, Jones shines in this challenging role and proves she’s just as at home on the stage as she is on the Cobbles. Remaining onstage for almost the entire production, charismatic and energetic Jones leads us through this fast paced comedy romp with the help of an excellent supporting cast. Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of the novel allows the chorus to narrate whilst each playing several roles and has a real focus on the comedy elements which the cast deliver perfectly. Richard Hope is wonderful, delighting the audience as Queen Elisabeth I with a nod to pantomime dames across theatre land. Thomas Arnold’s performance as Archduchess Henrietta is delightfully comedic and Tunji Kasim plays Shelmerdine beautifully, proving Woolf’s point that an individual is not defined by gender.
Director Max Webster who is no stranger to the Royal Exchange having previously directed the hugely successful To Kill A Mocking Bird and My Young Foolish Heart has led the cast exquisitely, the pace of the piece is fast but never confusing. Using the many exits this unique space offers, cast and crew whizz props and scenery on and off with ease, Designer Ti Green has done an excellent job of making the minimal look exquisite.
The aerial work performed by Molly Gromadzki as the strikingly beautiful Sasha is an unexpected treat and works perfectly in the intimate setting of the Exchange, special mention must go to Liz Ranken (Movement Director) and Vicki Amedume (Aerial Consultant) as the choreography is superb throughout. Music is provided on stage by the incredibly talented Hetti Price.
Showing at Royal Exhange until 22nd March Orlando is a delightful romp, playful, fast and full of fun, an absolute must see.