Peta Hanrahan’s adaptation showcases Woolf’s insight and wit but doesn’t move the conversation forward.
Marissa O’Reilly moves with ease between addressing the audience and the cast. Photo: Tommy Holt.
In 1928, Virginia Woolf delivered two lectures on women’s experiences in the field of writing that became the essay titled A Room of One’s Own. Today, this essay is given a second life at fortyfivedownstairs as Peta Hanrahan presents her adaptation and direction of Woolf’s work.
Hanrahan’s adaptation oscillates between a dramatic reading of Woolf’s essay, divided between four personas, and a late night philosophical debate between four friends. While these two interpretations of A Room of One’s Own are engaging, the transition between them is not always clear. This creates moments of disjointed conversation that break the connection between audience and text.
While the whole cast manoeuvre this thoughtfully, Marissa O’Reilly as Actor II - The Diplomat presents a particularly becoming sense of genuine interest and excitement in the goings on around her. This is constant as she moves, with ease, between addressing the audience and the cast.
This production takes Woolf’s work from the page back into the sphere of spoken word as it was originally presented. This enables Woolf’s writing, which leapfrogs across many ideas and narratives, to be more accessible and engaging. Witnessing the text spoken allows Woolf’s kernels of beautifully articulated genius, perceptive observations and fiery wit to shine, under Hanrahan’s careful adaptation and direction.
But while Woolf’s observations were affirming and groundbreaking in the 1920s, they’re very much of their time. The essay, though depressingly still relevant, does not move the conversation on women’s empowerment forward. Hanrahan is constrained by this, presenting us with an appreciation of past feminist work but stopping short at adding to or evolving Woolf’s ideas in any way.
Set designer Dagmara Gieysztor draws intuitively on the bones of fortyfivedownstairs to create a set that, not saying more than it needs to, blends seamlessly into the space while maintaining an old English academic atmosphere reminiscent of the spaces in which Woolf presented her lectures. The costumes sit vaguely between the 1920s and modernity with pieces clashing together – whether or not this is a statement on the continuing relevance of Woolf’s work is unclear. Scene transitions are achieved most effectively through Dave Thomson’s sound design that also supports the cast at points that have particular momentum. Paul Lim’s lighting design, warm yet bare, furthers the sense of a well-worn academic space.
Though it’s unclear whether this adaptation succeeds in being more than just a strong oration of Woolf’s work, it is a production that is tenderly presented, reminds audiences to maintain the rage, and has the exciting capacity to introduce new audiences to the concepts Woolf discusses.
3 stars out of 5 ★★★
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Adaptation and Direction: Peta Hanrahan
Performers: Anthea Davis, Marissa O’Reilly, Anna Kennedy & Jackson Trickett
17-28 July 2019
fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne VIC