Mrs Dalloway review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘an arresting adaptation’
In Hal Coase’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel, post-First World War London is full of noises and voices, as evoked by Tom Stafford’s sound design. A strange aircraft hovers above Regents Park, the bongs of Big Ben reliably mark the hour and people speak their thoughts into anachronistic dictaphones.
It’s a difficult novel to read, let alone adapt, with its flights of poetic language and the criss-crossing between the multiple characters, time periods and locations, and the two central figures who never directly overlap.
Coase’s staccato adaptation is complemented by Thomas Bailey’s brisk production and the design by Emma D’Arcy (also part of the cast and artistic director of Forward Arena) doesn’t try to compete with the attention required to focus on the sheer volume of words.
The five-strong cast gracefully flit between their array of different characters. In the title role, Clare Perkins – who recently so brilliantly urged Shakespeare’s Globe audiences to burn down the patriarchy as the senior Emilia Lanier – is splendid, with touching childlike qualities as the radiant Clarissa Dalloway, society hostess extraordinaire secretly engaged in imaginary conversations with her two old friends from her age of innocence.
Guy Rhys is affecting as the shellshocked Septimus, and Clare Lawrence Moody provides one of the most striking cameos as a manic eclair-gobbling, embittered governess, the one character who doesn’t adore the ever-gracious Clarissa, whom she regards as part of “the most worthless of all classes, rich, with a smattering of what they like to call culture”. Touché.
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