Orlando is a complicated and fantastical biography covering numerous centuries, detailing several controversial love affairs and, most notably, seeing its protagonist transform from male to female. It is by no means a conventional novel and the same can be said for this exciting new production, directed by Niall Docherty and Livi Dunlop and showing at the Keble O’Reilly in Sixth Week. Rather than the cast acting out a specific, well-rehearsed scene, I was instead invited to observe a rehearsal in action.
Translating this text to the stage is no easy feat, but the energy and enthusiasm that the cast displayed inspired hope that it could be achieved. They were experimenting with one of the most famous scenes between Orlando, at this point a young nobleman, and his lover, Sasha, an androgynous and aristocratic Russian princess, on the frozen River Thames. Flo Brady has perfected the Russian accent and gave a compelling performance as Sasha, whilst her male counterpart, Dominic Applewhite, who recently starred in The Pillowman, depicted Orlando in a manner befitting the novel.
The chorus were focused and their energy contributed to making some of the more dramatic moments a success. The whole rehearsal seemed very much a collaborative effort with both directors and actors contributing to the creative process. This meant there was a vast improvement from the beginning of the rehearsal, where new ideas were being tested, to the end where they managed to convincingly translate this complex scene onto the stage.
Their dynamic movements and the chorus’ use of the stage meant a realistic scene could be created without props or scenery. Through narrating their own actions in the third person, the characters added a new dimension aside from dialogue, which helped to provide an appropriate translation of the biographical genre of the original text onto the stage.
One of the main questions which comes to mind about this play is how to convey the gender transformation. One way in which this production has dealt with this is through alternating Dominic Applewhite as Orlando with his female counterpart Grainne O’Mahony, swapping the title role from performance to performance. The audience can choose whether they wish to see a female or male Orlando. O’Mahony, too, is perfectly suited to this role in both appearance and character; her intensity and boldness when working with Flo Brady was particularly captivating.
The actors were successful in creating a scene that balanced gentle wit with more serious and passionate moments. The use of projection mapping means the technical team will create three dimensional images on the stage. When the cast polish their lines, and continue to keep up the energy evident at this early stage, this innovative backdrop should provide the setting for an exciting new play.