Review: Mrs Dalloway

3 star rating
Gets caught up in Woolf's beautiful language, and the overarching effect is more that of a reading of the novel rather than a theatrical and physical adaptation.
Mrs Dalloway at Arcola Theatre

Image: Arcola Theatre

Closes here: Saturday 20 October 2018

Virginia Woolf, adaptation by Hal Coase

Thomas Bailey


Emma D'Arcy - Rezia

Sean Jackson - Peter

Clare Lawrence Moody - Sally

Clare Perkins - Clarissa

Guy Rhys - Septimus


On a single day in 1920s London, Clarissa Dalloway prepares to throw a party for her high-society friends.

On the same day, in the same city, First World War veteran Septimus Warren Smith seeks help from the ruling class that Clarissa entertains.

Forward Arena present a fast-paced, dynamic staging of Virginia Woolf's classic tale, in a bold new version by Hal Coase (Callisto: a queer epic).

ActDrop reviews

Meg Bennett

Performance date: Tuesday 2 October 2018
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In Virginia Woolf's 1925 stream-of-consciousness novel Mrs Dalloway, we follow a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a politician's wife, as she prepares for a party.

It is a study of the nature of human identity, set against a backdrop of postwar London.

Rather than relying on a plot heavy narrative, the highly poetic novel ebbs and flows from one character's mind to another.

Reality, Woolf suggests, hinges not on the here and now, but is rather a mixture of our own perceptions intermingled with our fleeting memories and imaginings.

Any staged adaptation of such a novel would have to be physically and formally experimental and writer Hal Coase approaches the task commendably.

However, the result often feels overwrought, and its emotional impact is therefore somewhat stilted.

In a metatheatrical opening, the actors address the audience directly, preparing us for the play's unconventional approach to character definition.

'Who is Mrs Dalloway?' becomes a subject of debate amongst the actors; the only resolution found is that she is ultimately undefinable.

While being a philosophically interesting introduction, this opening feels forced and uncomfortable and underestimates the receptiveness of its audience.

The five cast members transform the bare stage into an array of locations and times, leaping instantaneously from a busy street in 1920s London, a World War One battleground, a summer home in the 1890s and Clarissa's party.

Clare Perkins is a multifaceted Clarissa Dalloway, adeptly portraying both assured 'perfect hostess' and insecure society wife approaching middle age.

The rest of cast flit seamlessly between their many characters.

Guy Rhys is erratic and haunted as traumatised war veteran Septimus Smith, while Emma D'Arcy is heartbreaking as his young Italian wife.

Of the string of other characters that pop up, Clare Lawrence Moody as the eclair-gobbling Mrs Kilman, tutor of Clarissa's daughter, is particularly hilarious.

The dozens of secondary characters are portrayed with a touch of the ridiculous, perfectly illustrating Woolf's comedic and satirical side.

The adapted script itself is experimental, but relies too heavily on Woolf's descriptive passages of text as a storytelling device.

The audience is too often subjected to third-person descriptions of what the characters feel, or what they are doing, and the several truly theatrical and vivid scenes are infrequent relief from Hal Coase's emotionally stilted storytelling and Thomas Bailey's physically unengaged staging.

Overall, the production is true to the novel's poetic form and themes.

However, it gets caught up in Woolf's beautiful language and the overarching effect is more that of a reading of the novel rather than a theatrical and physical adaptation.

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