Brighton Fringe 2012
Described as "a love relationship in two acts", this is a two-hander about the relationship and literary influences of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf which is often named as "one of the most passionate love stories in the literary world."
Valerie Dent plays Virginia Woolf and Tamar K Karpas is Vita Sackville- West in a production billed as a ‘love relationship in two acts’.
A relationship that spanned almost two decades, this is an adventure into the Bloomsbury set, based on diary entries and letters between the two women. Here we have a relationship of the heart and also an affair of letters, a literary, but also a physical love affair.
Dent plays Virgina with an air of calm, whose need of Vita grows and intensifies as the play progresses. Yet is it Vita she needs, ot an illusion? This need is one rooted in passion, but also in her own frailty, as she transitions towards a madness that eventually will claim her life. Karpas is a poised Vita and her desires are expressed in a stage and vocal physicality that helps to create a powerful contrast with the more physically frail Virginia.
That is what this play needs – contrast – and is indeed what it achieves. It’s a long piece, over two acts, and the set is designed to show two lives, two homes, two perspectives, two sets of primal needs. It is staged as a physical polarity, and we, the audience, become the conduit for written and read letters. These are delivered mostly directly towards we, the audience, and this is a clever conceit as we become an essential ingredient in the spectacle. The letters reach each of the two via our attention, our deep listening. What a simple, clever, and effective device!
Directed by Alison Grant, with original music composed by Sian Eluzabeth Selway, the staging is simple. From the first correspondence, there is a flirtatious powerplay that quickly develops into a literary and emotional interplay; letters have been effectively transposed into dialogue, as we explore a "friendship tinged with amorosity." Woolf seeks illusion , someone to make the world dance. Is Vita real? Does she truly exist for Woolf?
The stage design is also a virtue of this production, as the tableau is bisected to reflect the duality; to the left, the soft light green, pictures on walls and chaise-longue of Virgina; to the right the deep red library, the book-lined oak panelled room of Vita.
This is a two-hander of words. It could easily be a radio play. The staging is fairly static and I can imagine that being criticised in reviews. Much of the dialogue is delivered as recited letters, with just occasional "drama" between the two. Yet what we have here is consciously staged polarity, revealing the paradoxical intimacy and distance of a relationship effected by pen. The division makes the moments on stage where each shares the others’ physical proximity all the more powerful. The divide creates provocation, flirtation, the gesture of reaching, the sense of need, thanks also the phenomenon that disembodied communication can sometimes free two human souls to flow together in a way that only shared cognising can.
I didn’t feel that some of Vita’s words, delivered from among the audience, towards the back, really worked nor was necessary. Most of the audience wouldn’t have seen her anyway, and it unbalanced the piece in a way that didn’t serve it. Also, occasionally the tempo dipped a little, especially in the middle of the first part.
However, a piece stretching to two hours didn’t feel stretched at all. The material is intiguing and engaging. We become immersesd in the shared biography of these two, and an intensity unfolds as we find out more. The letters reveal, and this is a play, not of revelation of story (though many fasincating facts emerge about the pair and their milieu), but a revelation of love, of passion, of want, and of art.
Highly recommended, Iambic Arts have once again delved deep into a theme and brought up gems.