Review by Charlotte Leamon
A Room of One’s Own produced by Belvoir Theatre is an empowering and thought-provoking 75-minute monologue starring Anita Hegh and Ella Prince, discussing women of the past, present, and future in a world of writing. Virginia Woolf’s lecture, book and now play, addresses themes of feminism through deliberating on the patriarchal differences between a man and woman in literature. The rich philosophical discussion in which Woolf touches on is forward and direct, however the audience follows a story full of imagination through this adaptation where us women question the freedom of our creative minds today.
Director Carissa Licciardello co-adapted the play with Tom Wright in which she aimed to, “release the poetry in Virginia’s text, mining her rich systems of imagery and creating some of our own to fully realise her masterwork, in all its resonance and richness.” The set most certainly captured the imagery of Woolf’s writing and vision. At first, it was simple. Black walls, a black carpet, and one single chair located at centre stage in which sat Anita Hegh who was once again, dressed in all black. Throughout most of the play Hegh remained in this chair or walked around the stage talking to the audience and breaking the fourth wall. Whilst the set was draped in darkness, there was one single box in the far corner of the stage surrounded by mirrors. Although it seemed just a mirrored box, it revealed itself to be a Perspex box in which Prince was the focus and mirror image of Woolf. Through all else’s simplicity, this box was full of life and colour, becoming more extravagant and striking as the play went on. With each tableaux or mise en scene Prince performed in the box, Woolf would gaze longingly and curiously at the image in the box which symbolised her memories and visions. With each scene, the audience witnessed Woolf drift into her own imagination, allowing us to absorb ourselves within her mind. Designer David Flescher describes the box as the, “demonstration of the ideas Woolf is weaving in front of our eyes-sometimes running a logical path, sometimes a path of association, emotion, or sensation.” As an audience member, we see the box as a trail and distraction for Woolf. Paired with lighting and ambient music, a dream-like world of emotion and sensation, as Flescher words, is entered.
Overall, Hegh’s performance invited the audience to sit with Woolf in a lecture room of the year 1929, listening to the struggles and queries of women in writing. Throughout all 75 minutes, Hegh did not so much as once stutter or stumble in the monologue, yet she produced the clearest dictation through an English accent which encapsulated intelligence and formality. Through Hegh’s monologue, one would think the audience would lose focus for a moment or two. However, for not one moment did I as an audience member waver from Hegh’s captivating performance. Her facial expressions and eye contact were sincere and ranged from emotions of anger, sadness, and wonder. What’s more, is that Hegh captured Woolf’s intelligence and formality by not allowing emotion to overpower fact, and this restraint flawlessly represented the powerful woman of Woolf. In quite a contrast, Prince’s performance was purely visual. Her physicality was seamless, and the elegance of her every move most certainly allowed the audience to enter a dream-like trance. She embodied many different characters, however my favourite mise en scene followed a book in which Woolf read, “Chloe liked Olivia.” A pivotal moment of literature, where sexuality is becoming an open topic was visualised in the Perspex box by Prince. As glitter fell from the roof, a bright light lit up Prince who unzipped and slipped off her pink dress to reveal a purple one underneath. She then picked up the pink dress and held it in front of her before the Perspex box became an ordinary mirrored box once more. Prince portrayed not just this moment, but every character with elegance and beauty as supported through costume, lighting and set.
This play is topical and relevant today as we see in not just literature, but other areas of society, the discrimination women face in creativity. The cast and creative team of Belvoir brought Woolf’s discussion to life in a magical way. Although times are changing and progress is being made, Woolf stated in 1929, and we must state again, “give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind.”
Image Credit: Brett Boardman