Review by Carly Fisher
Based on Virginia Woolf’s 1928 lectures at the University of Cambridge’s women’s colleges, A Room of One’s Own is certainly a title familiar to many and is an essay that, since its 1929 publication, has inspired many adaptations from novels, to songs, to films and more. In this latest work inspired by the great classic, Room, offers insight into the writing of the piece and the world by which Woolf was inspired to write.
Heather Alexander takes on the one woman show and performs as Virginia with great class. Though not directly trying to emulate Woolf, Alexander beautifully portrays her, her progressive attitudes and her experience of university and of the world at large that leads her to think more about the place of women - both in society and in literature.
Alexander’s performance is strong throughout as she expertly navigates between Woolf’s curiosity, passive aggression towards the system, disappointment and thinking. In a script that could be read as quite monotonal, Alexander achieves a good balance of light and shade to keep the audience interested and responds nicely to the voice overs incorporated through the show that tell the more lecture-style monologues incorporated through the piece.
Utilising a table complete with effective set dressings of books, a wine bottle, crumpled paper, etc and a couple of chairs, the set works well in the shipping container-esque venue that is Pleasance Courtyard’s Beside theatre. I felt that there was a slight over inclusion of props that weren’t all necessary but Alexander handled them all well. The only exception to this was the fake cigar that was not lit…it was an amateur move from an otherwise well executed piece of theatre and its inclusion was superfluous and distracting. A picky observation, I do admit, but it is tiny details like this that really separate the cream of the crop at a festival with as many high quality acts as Edinburgh Fringe.
The sound design was effective though not mixed all that well in the venue and therefore, often blurted through the speakers a bit too loudly for comfort, particularly in the lunch scene where Alexander was left to battle to be heard. Overlooking this singular tech flaw, the sound has been well created to really solidify that sense of place and to allow the audience to easily decipher settings, as well as to charge the storyline with a necessary sense of extroverted emotion.
Alexander’s costume is intentionally and cleverly androgynous. It tells us much of who Woolf was and how she came to hold herself in the world around her.
Director Dominique Gerrard has cleverly divided the live action and voice over parts of the script to really ensure that great pacing was achieved and that the show was as layered as Woolf’s experiences. Gerrard and Alexander have together achieved a strong sense of characterisation and have made clever choices to make this show interesting and as relatable as possible.
That said, this show is not for everyone and I do think its appeal may be limited in terms of demographic. Though well performed, the script is a bit laboured and the hour feels long - though Alexander does all she can to have you forget this, it is a shame the script is not just about 10 minutes shorter - by the end the audience around me seemed quite restless where initially all seemed captivated in the strength of Alexander’s performance.
Overall, I’m glad I saw this piece as I always love an opportunity to see intricate feminist works brought to the stage, and particularly I am glad I got to see Alexander perform. But ultimately, this isn’t a show that had me hooked.