💐 Orlando by Rachel Lewindon and Willow Sizer

This electro-folk musical adaptation of one of Virginia Woolf's most well-known works is filled with so much joy and wit that I couldn't help but fall in love.

💐 Orlando by Rachel Lewindon and Willow Sizer
Image: Angel Leggas

I've not read Orlando, or any Virginia Woolf for that matter, but this electro-folk musical adaptation of one of Woolf's most well-known works makes me want to remedy that.

In this version of Orlando, five actors play the titular character (often at the same time) as a sort of fractal of Orlando's identity. The effect is sublime, as we get to see the machinations of Orlando's mind in a way that most theatre doesn't show us. In a work exploring the fluidity of gender and identity this choice really worked to underscore the many stories we choose to tell about ourselves.

Willow Sizer's book and Rachel Lewindon's composition is magical. The luscious soundscape and insightful lyricism drew me into Orlando's world. I loved the relationship the text had to the audience and the modern day. It felt fresh and updated and lively while retaining a sense of reverence for the original story.

The ensemble worked cohesively and were an absolute joy to watch. Each of them brought something unique and personal to their Orlando which made the show feel really alive. There's really no weak link on stage to speak of.

The set and costume design were also marvellous—I mean how else can I describe a show which has a bubbling pond on stage surrounded by boulders and pebbles? The simple costumes with rain coats added a nice element of whimsy and coziness to the story. And notably, two of the five characters wear gumboots, which was a real Chekhov's Boot situation for me.

The show was performed in traverse, but I don't think this orientation in fortyfivedownstairs is the strongest I've seen—those awkward pillars seemed to really get in the way of both performers and sight lines in an unfortunate way.

As visually, aurally, and artistically stunning as this work was, there were some elements which left me confused. As someone who hasn't read the original source material, I sometimes felt lost in the plot, as the text seemed to lean heavily on innuendo and subtext rather than explanations and context. I'm ashamed to say I didn't actually realise that Orlando lives through hundreds of years of history—my brain chose to interpret the references to the past and the modern day as an exciting theatrical smashing together of time rather than a key plot point.

Nevertheless, the story that I did receive was filled with so much joy and wit and delivered with such talent that I couldn't help but fall in love. The world that Sizer and Lewindon have created from Woolf's book is charming, and the reflections on gender, shifting identities, and love are profound, necessary, and delivered with such a deep sense of care. I'm so glad I got to see this and am excited to see what these two create next.

I really recommend you see this before it closes.

Orlando is presented by Antipodes Theatre Company at fortyfivedownstairs until 11 November.
Tickets are available here.