Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 6 – 23, 2021
Playwright: Virginia Woolf (adapted by Carissa Licciardello, Tom Wright)
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Anita Hegh, Ella Prince
Images by Brett Boardman
It was almost a hundred years ago, when Virginia Woolf had given her lectures espousing the importance of championing women writers. Subsequently compiled and published in 1929 as an extended essay, A Room of One’s Own has since become a prominent work of twentieth-century feminist literature, providing language and concepts that have helped advance the cause.
Woolf’s meditations on liberation are, of course, much further-reaching than its immediate academic concerns. Finding ways to empower women writers, as we have discovered, involves an interrogation of how power is fundamentally distributed in our lives. These analyses about the people who do, and those who do not, have the space to think and write, generate a political discourse whereby women can contextualise their experience of freedom, or more likely lack thereof.
Adapted into a theatrical format by Carissa Licciardello and Tom Wright, we discover that Woolf’s words remain potent, even if her approach to these persistent issues can at times seem dated. We also observe that although much of how she had conveyed her thoughts, bear a passion that translates well to the stage, some of her writing is probably more effective when encountered in a book.
Performer Anita Hegh demonstrates a baffling super human memory, completely at ease with the enormous barrage of words she has to deliver. Her graceful gravitas creates for us, a version of Virginia Woolf who is engaging and persuasive, a formidable force of nature that lives up to our imagination, of what the legendary agitator could have been like in the flesh. Hegh’s work is extremely detailed, able to sustain our fascination with the intensity of her depictions, even in moments when one’s intellect falters at trying to keep up.
Licciardello’s direction of A Room of One’s Own introduces a substantial element of abstraction, to provide the show with a sense of elevation. In addition to what remains a lecture by Woolf, is a second performance space, a smaller cube in which a second actor Ella Prince is housed, as she manufactures physical augmentation to what is said and heard. These brief sequences are perfectly conceived, to add much needed theatricality, and to aide digestion of Woolf’s dense words.
David Fleischer’s work on set and costumes, are technically proficient but also surprisingly sensual. Lights by Kelsey Lee too, are soft and almost romantic in quality. The visuals offer a valuable counterpoint, to the understandably militant tone of the text. Music by Alice Chance is luscious, maybe even dreamlike, and along with Paul Charlier’s uplifting sound design, our mind is maintained in a mode of inspiration, as we welcome Woolf’s passionate call for progress.
“500 pounds a year” is the author’s unmissable refrain, reflecting a way of looking at equality that places emphasis on giving to women, what men possess. In the new century, we learn that what men possess, is no longer that which represents a better way of being. Woolf implies that to be rid of menial tasks, is the only way for women to think, but she was wrong. Many of modern feminism’s greatest thinkers were/are never able to leave the trenches of patriarchal oppression.
It is appropriate that both performers in the show are white women. Although much of what Woolf has written is valuable, it comes from a position of privilege that the author was evidently unwilling to confront. There is a deceptive simplicity to her message, and a strong tendency to preserve structures that should be called thoroughly into question. All she wants it seems, is to swap male for female, in these old ways of running things. What we need is to admit that these very systems of running things, are a problem, no matter who occupies positions within.