Twice during Orlando at the Garrick Theatre, Emma Corrin says 'gosh' and to my ear, it was her Princess Diana in The Crown saying it. I'm hoping it was intentional as it would fit with the contemporary references which are peppered throughout Neil Bartlett's adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel.
Some of it is subtle, some less so, but it's part of what makes this a fun and playful production of a story with serious themes.
Corrin plays the eponymous Orlando, sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, whose story spans from the 16th century to the second world war, all the time remaining in their 20s or 30s.
They are a character that is forever searching: Who am I? But in essence, it's a search for the freedom to be themselves, to express who they are and openly love who they love.
There is a chorus of 'Virginias', all dourly dressed, who step in to play additional characters. The casting is ethnicity and gender-blind, something that wouldn't normally raise an eyebrow, but here it feels particularly smart; the fluidity of gender and roles in the context of the story nails the point.
Clothes as labels
As Orlando passes through the centuries, they work their way through a dizzying array of costumes, but these become symbolic of society's labels and expectations of binary genders.
They are most free when in an androgynous oversized shirt - a state of dress to which they default often. Corrin morphs into each iteration of Orlando in a blink of a posture change or tonal shift in voice.
And that is the play; it morphs from one period to another with Deborah Findlay's wardrobe mistress/narrator keeping the audience up to speed in an almost pantomime style - the audience is referred to as 'boys and girls' at one point.
In one of the less subtle contemporary nods, she regularly corrects herself: "Ladies and gents, sorry, everyone".
Women's status in society
But the play isn't just about gender identity; when Orlando becomes a woman, her rights are stripped away in a blink, and the pressure to marry intensifies.
This is cemented in a gloomy and stiff Victorian-era set scene where her role in society - to bear 15 children - is depressingly set out.
Progress in women's rights and the journey to freedom of identity is highlighted at the end when the 1940s Orlando is told: "If you could just live another century".
Sometimes the less subtle touches overwhelm the more subtle wit of Bartlett's script, and, just occasionally, it is difficult to tell who it is poking fun at. Overall it is an enjoyable watch and very well done.
I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Orlando, Garrick Theatre
Directed by Michael Grandage
Adapted by Neil Bartlett from Virginia Woolf's novel
Running time: 90 mins without an interval
Booking until 25 February; visit the website for more information and tickets.
Othello, National Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 21 January
Good, Harold Pinter Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ now booking until 7 January 2023.
Theatre in the diary:
A Streetcar Named Desire, Almeida Theatre
The Art of Illusion, Hampstead Theatre