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Elinor Potts writes on the Arcola’s precarious performance of Mrs Dalloway

This adaptation of Virginia Wolf’s Mrs Dalloway isn’t for everyone. For some, it is a chaotic and claustrophobic clamour of self-indulgent Modernism. For others, it is a chaotic and claustrophobic clamour of self-indulgent Modernism. Attending to Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Brown’, Hal Coase deduces that the text’s primary occupation is that of character formation, with an eye to Woolf’s distrust of “theatrical moments which might deliver the ‘final’ truths of life”.

Drawing upon the rich catalogue of writings on and by Woolf, her eccentric creations are tastefully draped in muted beige linens with a background of white drapes. It’s minimalist to the extent that it habitually relies on narrative descriptions to project the image of London. Coase’s refusal to wholly visualise the setting is an abstract and painterly decision which is in keeping with the expressively experimental sentiment of the text but is also, albeit, a little lazy.

Before we meet Clarissa (Clare Perkins), the rest of the cast sketch her character by listing her traits until they grow restless at the redundancy of language and limits of knowledge. “There is never enough of someone to make a judgement”, they surmise. The four cast members disperse like birds into the four corners of the room, playing metropolitan ‘found-sound’ on cassette players in a contemporary flourish. Thus, the character of Clarissa Dalloway is born, clutching (fake) flowers, which she bought herself, against an Yves-Klein-blue canvas; one of few temporal markers. Later, a cloudier canvas is brought out to indicate the fading light.

There are several instances of wrongly executed and misspoken lines and the shaky synchronisation feels indicative of insufficient rehearsal. Despite this, there is a supremely accomplished and nuanced performance from Moody who brings surprisingly humorous tones to the characters of Miss Killman and Mrs William Bradshaw.

D’Arcy’s monologue as Rezia is also worthy of note, her musical Italian timbre summoning audience tears as she pleads for her shell-shocked husband’s sanity. In its denouement, the play pulls together its aphoristic threads in the aftermath of Septimus’ death. “To love makes one solitary”, is one, “the people we are most fond of are no good for us when we are ill”. In this, the cynicism of Woolf’s earlier mentioned distrust for theatrically delivered truths is lost, operating more as moral lessons than sardonic phrases.

Whilst it might not be as beautiful as Woolf’s prose, Coase’s theatrical imagining of Mrs Dalloway must be credited for its ambition in adapting such a well-loved canonical Modernist text. The adaptation might not be a meticulous reiteration of the original, it’s every bit as cluttered and befuddled as urban life has always been.

-Words by Elinor Potts

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