Written and performed by Lucy Roslyn, Orlando is a one woman show about Roslyn’s adoration for the novel Orlando by Virginia Woolf, and how she uses it’s central character in every day life to consider existence. Orlando is an astonishingly fascinating book and so I can completely understand why it plays such an important part in her life, though those who haven’t either read it (or seen the equally impressive film by Sally Potter and starring Tilda Swinton) may perhaps struggle to understand a little.
Roslyn does her best to address this in the opening ten minutes as she runs through the plot of the book like an overly enthusiastic English teacher who hasn’t had the passion beaten out of them by years of teaching unruly kids. It’s a very basic summary though and while it captures important plot points a lot of the nuances of Woolf’s work are omitted, and rather than discuss all of the themes it addresses she concentrates on three, isolation, identity and love. As it’s only an hour long play this is perhaps understandable though, and what follows is mostly enjoyable material.
The central element of the play is an affair Roslyn had with a married woman we only know as B. Roslyn identifies as bisexual, which her friends initially reacted to in appalling ways, presuming it meant she’d like to have sex with anyone, but in this case she only had love for one individual and one individual alone. She describes her love / infatuation with B in tender and funny ways, but it’s the break up which is truly affecting as she struggles to come to terms with the relationship ending, why it happened, and how she can move on from it. With these dual frameworks it allows her to explore her desire for solitude, what it means to be bisexual in her specific situation, how it feels to be judged based on your sexuality and the concept of identity. A lot of what she has to say is involving and intriguing, and the asides she makes to the audience are often very funny, though there is the odd misjudged moment where it appears she’s just insulting a member of the audience.
Unfortunately it’s a poorly staged piece, the space consists of three rows of benches facing each other on either side and a stage at one end, but Roslyn rarely uses it choosing instead to come out in to the small space between the audience. She mentions early on that it’s intentional, she wants the show to feel intimate and raw, but it meant that a third of the audience, myself included, spent a third of the show staring at her back which began to frustrate after a while. If you were in a better seat you’d be able to see her throughout so it’s something of a lottery as to how you’ll witness the play, but given the small size of the room, and the intensity of Roslyn’s performance, it would have been far more effective if she’d just used the stage alone.
The performance is powerful and Roslyn is a superb actor, but the production sometimes feels like it lacks substance. You get a feel for why Orlando is such an important element in her life, as she aspires to be like the central character, but the story of her relationship with B needed to be expanded upon, we never get a grip on who she was and what the affair meant to her, it’s a very one sided examination of events which seems fleeting and over with all rather quickly. The play would definitely benefit from being a good thirty minutes longer than it’s sixty minute run time so it could explore it’s ideas and themes in greater depth, but that all said there is a great deal to enjoy here and it’s certainly a thought provoking work that has a lot of interesting things to say.