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Mr Monkey sees Orlando at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 20th February 2014
End date : 22nd March 2014
Visit date : 25th February, 2014
Mr Monkey looking at the Orlando poster
Mr Monkey trotted along to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the press night of Orlando, Sarah Ruhl's adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel.

Virginia Woolf published Orlando in 1928, the year all women got the vote. Possibly the most notable event of the book is Orlando going to sleep after a party in Constantinople and waking up a few days later as a woman, though living for several hundred years is quite unusual too.

Sarah Ruhl's version of Orlando is, obviously, a condensed version of the novel, concentrating on largely on Orlando's love life and accidental (and unexplained) gender shift.

The action is played out on an empty stage, with a few props rolled on when needed. These range from part of a ship to a far-off mansion.

Mr Monkey was entranced by the scenes of skating on the frozen Thames at the end of the 16th century, as he's sometimes wondered how the Exchange would represent ice-skating without ice. Their solution - suspend the skater from the ceiling and spin them round just above the stage - is both elegant and effective.
Orlando (Suranne Jones) failing to write a poem about an oak tree (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Orlando (Suranne Jones) after he's come home from Constantinople as a woman (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo) As Orlando is on stage from start to finish, any production of Orlando stands or falls with the performance of the actor playing Orlando. Suranne Jones is absolutely brilliant, convincing as a young man at the court of Elizabeth I and as a woman over several centuries.

Mr Monkey found the male Orlando so convincing that it was a genuine surprise when she appeared as a woman at the end of the first act. Mr Monkey thinks there might be something inherent in Elizabethan male costume that makes it suitable for women to disguise themselves as men convincingly.

The chorus (Richard Hope, Thomas Arnold and Tunji Kasim) provide a spoken commentary throughout, but also play a wide variety of speaking roles, notably Queen Elizabeth I, several of Orlando's suitors (of both sexes), a troupe of actors and sundry passers-by across the centuries of Orlando's life. They also double up as a motor car near the end. All this is done with just the right touch of over-the-top exuberance. Molly Gromadzki was striking as Sasha, Orlando's first real love, even when she wasn't skating above the stage.

Mr Monkey was very impressed by the live cello music provided by Hetti Price, which includes the use of an arpeggione - an early 19th century instrument resembling a guitar with a bridge and played with a bow - and baroque and modern cellos.
Orlando (Suranne Jones) drives home in the 1920s to finish her poem (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Mr Monkey found Orlando a completely joyous production, a perfect example of where acting and all the other components of theatre come together to deliver an excellent experience, and recommends it to everyone.
Orlando runs until 22nd March 2014.

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