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Review: Mrs Dalloway, at Arcola Theatre

Passionate performances as adaptation of Virginia Woolf classic does things a little differently

05 October, 2018 — By Catherine Usher

Sean Jackson as Peter, and Emma D’arcy as Rezia, in Mrs Dalloway. Photo: Ollie Grove

THERE’S all kinds of quirkiness going on in this new adaptation of the Virginia Woolf classic.

Opening with the actors addressing the audience, revealing when and why they first read the 1925 novel, it immediately identifies itself as attempting to do things differently – indeed, the fourth wall is broken before it is even fully established.

There’s a presumption that the audience is as familiar with the story as the company is, which does create a sense of exclusion for those who aren’t.

There is little in the way of costume changes and no set to speak of, so when the actors switch between various characters, it can be difficult to keep track.

Emma D’Arcy puts in a passionate performance as Septimus’s Italian wife Rezia, coaxing, observing and pleading with her tormented husband. The character contrasts sharply with her portrayal of Mrs Dalloway’s teenage daughter Elizabeth, who is delightfully clipped, reserved and inexpressive.

Clare Lawrence Moody is equally dynamic as Mrs Dalloway’s childhood friend Sally – her modern perspective, feminist outlook and mischievous humour is highly appealing, differing greatly from the collection of pompous society bores at Mrs Dalloway’s dinner party.

Without much in the way of props and scenery, various cassette tapes, microphones and dictaphones are used to denote crowd scenes or the separation of conversation from thought. But at times it is rather distracting, especially when the technology is neither modern nor from the 1920s.

Each of the cast members injects admirable intensity and energy into their performance, but there are frequent episodes of private thought and explanation, which interrupt the flow somewhat.

Adding this to the insuppressible quirkiness – dinner party press conferences and characters reading the Metro – there’s a pervading sense of style over substance.

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