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Review: Orlando at Forty Five Downstairs

Review by Susanne Dahn

What a delight it is to see local company Antipodes Theatre stage a new and incredibly tight piece of musical theatre (yes ! songs in a play !) in their adaption of Virginia Woolf’s epic, fantastical and pioneeringly queer novel Orlando.

Brandon Pape as Artistic Director of Antipodes and Margot Henley as the adaptation’s Director have given us a show that takes us back a long way in time but reaches its hand out to us again and again in the here and now encouraging us to keep becoming our full beauty.

The influence of veteran dramaturge Maude Davey on this extraordinarily talented young troupe is thrilling.

Orlando the novel was inspired by Woolf’s love for aristocratic author Vita Sackville-West. Nigel Nicholson, Sackville-West's son, wrote, "The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando, the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her."

The novel was published nearly 100 years ago but the young poet Orlando’s 300 year journey through countries, lives and genders, through infatuations and betrayals, feels palpably and fully now for today’s audience who are so much more accustomed to the easier flow between the binaries of gender, class, time and even death.

Orlando the show, which is currently enjoying deserved acclaim by Melbourne audiences in its world premier season, fuses some of the best of traditional musical theatre with contemporary devised and collaborative creativity.

Described as a new electro-folk musical, Orlando’s music and lyrics are by Rachel Lewindon and book and lyrics are by Willow Sizer in collaboration with the talented cast of Marty Alix, Louie Dalzell, Manali Datar, Willow Sizer and Kikki Temple who all play the title character.

Antipodes created Orlando as a fluid musical that amplifies the experience of the cast by workshopping the material and plot directly with and for them. This changes the way music theatre can authorise both access and representation to lives and experiences that may otherwise be excluded.

The cast are uniformly gorgeous and bring infectious enthusiasm to the work that they have helped co-create. It is a joy to see them work together, to hear their strong and unique voices and to bask in the harmonies they create together which reach a crescendo in the final number.

Marty Alix is fresh from Hamilton and is adorable as the Orlando that exemplifies the loving innocence of the character; Marty’s facial gestures are endearing.

Manali Datar is wonderful too, she is fresh from Harry Potter and brings us all the confidence and entitlement of Orlando.

Louie Dalzell is an exhilarating performer, with such grace in movement, voice and character as he embodies the elegance and poise of Orlando.

Willow Sizer is a delight embodying the earthy, lusty, needy and constant appetite of Orlando. She fully owns and occupies the role.

And Kikki Temple is a star ebbing and flowing from heart to mind to body, highlighting and accentuating all that is fluid and fabulous about Orlando.

Deep underground at Forty Five Downstairs seems very apt for this work. Simply set in the round by Bethany Fellows over a rocky outcrop containing a smudge of a great river, the players first bring Orlando to life as a privileged and pretty boy, kissed by his association with royalty and oblivious to the harms done by his caste to generations of black and brown people.

As if to set class matters somewhat to rights, much of Orlando’s costuming favours the lesser (groundskeepers and travellers) rather than the nobility that is abundant in the traditional Orlando incarnations.

Lewindon’s score and libretto deftly invoke The Great Frost with Willow Sizer’s bumboat lady singing of the ‘Lundon’ song being quite brilliant.

The Russian folk tune musical style accompanying the unforgettable (Vita and Violet) love affair of Orlando with Sacha equally nail the point of the musical adaptation. The central European volkisch style is also ideal for the bombastic and wordy intellectual that Orlando sets out to be after his ghosting by Sacha - say my name, lose my number.

Manali Datar’s Mr Greene is hilariously good - what do you need Orlando (Vita) - critique, complements, eternal admiration ? Datar has superb comic actor already firmly in her skill set.

Orlando’s change of sex after the seven day sleep is superbly and dramatically rendered with the focus on the shapely curve of Kikki Temple’s hips and thighs.

I’ve always been taken by the poignant role of nature in this work - whether the snow, the oak tree or the geese. The cast sing of the wild geese that fly overhead and carry love on their wings. As the novel ends Orlando exults, "It's the goose! The wild goose!"

In Mary Oliver’s beautiful Wild Geese:

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting,

over and over announcing your place

Antipodes’ production of Orlando announces a place for many who might never have felt they had one, it announces an enduring position for this fabulous independent local theatre company and it announces unlimited potential for this gifted cast and crew. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Image Supplied


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