Palace Theatre, Watford/touring
Opened 22 April, 1999

When did Bloomsbury bohemia become Merchant Ivorised? When did this hotbed of creative radicalism become assimilated as a decorous part of our cultural heritage? Or was it always so bourgeois that it would inevitably be seen only a couple of generations later as a phenomenon more genteel than scandalous?

Eileen Atkins's adaptation of the letters of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West is, if not quite reverential, a politely respectful affair. The sexual extent of their love affair is left as vague as one presumes it was in the correspondence itself, leaving Maria Aitken's production for Sphinx merely to throw the odd coy hint with one or two chaste kisses between Marty Cruickshank's Virginia and Cathryn Harrison's Vita.

Atkins skilfully intercuts the letters so that the protagonists' lapidary paragraphs alternate with what almost appears real-time dialogue at more intimate moments, and Aitken directs as much interaction as is possible in the circumstances; the two walk together in the moonlight, or Virginia gazes, rapt, across half the stage at Vita's epistolary pronouncements from distant Persia. Cruickshank, in austere dress and knee-length cardy, conveys Woolf's brittleness and volatility of mood, and Harrison affects a certain bluffness of manner and posture, although not quite enough to suggest the gynandry that inspired Woolf's Orlando. Paul Edwards's set is chiefly nondescript-abstract-rural, i.e. green and shapeless, except for a huge volume of Orlando on which Vita occasionally luxuriates as in a literary boudoir; Howard Davidson's score is as polite, English and undemanding as the production overall.

Written for The Stage.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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