Unpolished but a delight nonetheless.
'The longest and most charming love letter in literature’, claimed one scholar of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation, presented by the Fletcher Players for possibly the first time in Cambridge, certainly lives up to the latter adjective.
It began shakily: the house lights cut out only for there to be an agonisingly long wait, during which there was so much noise from outside the stage it was unclear whether the show had started or not. However, it’s their opening night and the five-person strong cast (almost all elaborately made up to look like masque players) do so much heavy lifting it is impossible to begrudge them any tiny mistakes (there were a couple of instances in which lines clashed or misfired, for example.)
If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Orlando (as I was) it’s important to note how charming they have to be- if not the whole tale seems to collapse. Thankfully, Georgina Taylor is more than up for the task: she radiates effervescent charm and energy, seeming like she’s from an entirely different world to the others in their ghostly make-up. They fulfil more of a stylised role, acting sometimes as a Greek chorus, whilst Taylor with her down-to-earth tone and almost Office-like glances at the audience is a breath of fresh air. Her deadpan response to overblown declarations of love had me in stitches.
The rest of the cast have their moments to shine, too: Juliet Martin’s accent and elegant bearing are pitch-perfect as Sasha (as are her undereye gems. Please rock them at a formal near me soon.) Pol Bradford- Corris is a welcome counterpoint to the exaggeration of some other cast members- it’s an understated and almost shy, sweet performance which matches Taylor’s warmth exactly. Rosy Sida is deeply entertaining as the Duchess- the exaggeration really suits her talents (she is perhaps slightly too comic in the chorus when everyone else seems to be playing it straight.) Alice Tyrrell does an almost Horrible Histories-style caricature of Elizabeth I which seems to have walked straight out of a sketch show but still manages to retain great pathos.
Although at times a little bit predictable (it was almost GCSE Drama-esque in some cases, as when the chorus was slightly too obviously used to repeat phrases ) the physical theatre aspects of the show were beautifully realised (the lifting of Orlando was criminally underused) and the piano music used in the romantic moments was stunning- the last moments, in which Orlando reveals what she has learnt over her life, almost made me tear up. There was also excellent usage of a sheet to variously connote sex, marriage, and a complete gender shift- a really inventive use of the limited space.
Overall, although there were some general first night issues- which were to be expected- and some issues with the rhythm of the speeches (the chorus lines were split in odd places which led to some awkward pauses and hindered the flow of the schemes), the production was a real delight to watch and left me walking through the (admittedly damp) Cambridge night feeling deeply moved.
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