"A tale about trans gender"
by Julia Taylor for remotegoat on 26/02/14

The adaptation for stage of Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando, by Sarah Ruhl, is like a fairy tale and a very weird one at that.

For, Suranne Jones in the male title role, dallies with Queen Elizabeth I, has an affair with a Spanish Dancer and falls in love with a Russian Princess, Sasha.

With a convincing Russian accent, Molly Gromadski is a Sasha who is light on her feet as she supposedly skates down the Thames, flying in the air in the process.

Orlando falls asleep for a week at the age of 30. ‘He’ wakes up as a woman, like the birth of Venus, and finds himself in the seventeenth century. ‘She’ then progresses through to the twentieth century as a woman who never exceeds the age of 36.

It takes a great actor to perform as two different sexes and Jones pulls it off magnificently.

Before her miraculous slumber she swaggers manfully around the stage not quite slapping her thigh in principal boy fashion but certainly convincing us that she is a man.

The transformation is immediate and, a beautiful woman appears like a butterfly from a chrysalis in the blink of an eye.

As such, she has no shortage of suitors and one of them, also, miraculously crosses genders and time to become his/her lover when both male and female.

When Orlando returns to England from Constantinople she faces a law suit that prohibits the ownership of property because she has been presumed dead, or if not dead, a woman, who in those days, was also forbidden to own property. All is not greener on the other side of the street when she changes sex!

Richard Hope, Thomas Arnold and Tunji Kasim are described as Chorus. They sometimes act as narrators, sometimes as the different lovers of both sexes who Orlando enfolds.

I am especially impressed with the ageing Queen Elizabeth I who embraces Orlando as her toy boy.

The costume department must be praised for their colourful dresses especially the illuminated farthingale sported by the Queen.

Throughout our heroine is seen writing poetry. She finally finishes it after switching from quill pen to typewriter.

The play is beautifully written by Virginia Woolf who some believe is describing herself.

The following line sums it up. “The past shelters us on one side and the future on the other.”

As always, the Royal Exchange Theatre has come up with some interesting goods!

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