Review: Orlando

Blackadder-esque frolic through history is a tickler

This play really couldn’t have come at a better time. What with Queer Fest on Saturday is this surely not the week in which we all come to question issues of gender and sexuality far more than any other?

And happily this adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending romp through history finds itself seated right in the middle of Oxford’s LGBTQ procession.

The play centres around Orlando, an affable young man whose slender legs earn him the attention of Russian Princesses, Romanian Archduchesses and even Queen Elizabeth I.

So far so good.

But one day, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone on stage (let alone the poor audience) Orlando becomes a woman!

Curtains for the interval, and in a state of understandable consternation, the audience exits the auditorium for a somewhat muted – and also exceedingly expensive – halftime drink.

The she-Orlando of the second half finds equal romantic success and ends up marrying a sea captain, and finishing his/her poem that has been in the offing for several hundred years.

Curtains for final applause.

Directors Livi Dunlop and Niall Docherty make a good stab at Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Woolf’s tricky work that attempts to deal with thorny concepts like androgyny.

The play is, however, at times somewhat of a hurtling torrent of action and dialogue, confounding and bemusing and one wishes that it might have gone on for slightly longer to give the audience a moment to digest.

The chorus of seven, all clad in white, prattle and prance their way through the scenes and through slick choreography and careful definition of character, keeps the laugh count ticking over.

Orlando, who was played by Dominic Applewhite on the night we went to see, but also by Grainne O’Mahony on alternating nights, is present throughout, centrifugally compelling the show.

Applewhite, despite a few line slips, holds his own and doesn’t fall into the trap of overacting, as some of his friends in the chorus might be accused of.

You won’t leave the play and bound into Queer Fest with a much enriched sense of gender equality, and nor will you leave with a searing sense of emotion or attachment towards any of the characters.

But unless you have a chronically reduced capacity for humour – and there are, admittedly, several of you out there in this town – you will enjoy the show.

It’s Sunday night BBC 2 sort of stuff – fun and wholesome, with a bit more grit than BBC 1.