The amorous and charismatic Orlando, who lived for 400-odd years and took it in his stride when he woke up one morning (apparently aged 30, after two centuries of life) and found he'd become a she, was based after a fashion on Virginia Woolf's sometime lover Vita Sackville-West. Adapters Robin Brooks and Jonathan Holloway cut between this story and quasi-biographical scenes involving Woolf, West, West's husband Harold Nicolson and her lover Violet Trefusis, so that West "plays" Orlando, with the others cropping up as various characters down the years.
The trademark exuberant theatricality of Red Shift is well in evidence: players rush to the borders of the acting area to pick up props and costumes, and take over from one another playing Ross Brown's arresting glockenspiel-and-melodica score. This is far from an earnest disquisition upon the Bloomsbury set; it's made (as all Red Shift productions are) to be thoroughly entertaining without sacrificing its brain.
What it does lose, though, is coherence in the final stretch. After an uncertainly-pitched 1980s yuppie scene, the play, faced with the necessity of ending at least two by then quite divergent stories, resorts to a billow of dry ice and a succession of scenelets that convey the notion of closure without really portraying anything substantial. That aside, though, it's a more than honourable production to celebrate Red Shift's tenth year as (in Holloway's words) "cultural ringworm"; long may they infest us.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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