Lou Corben on Making ORLANDO

When Virginia Woolf sat down in 1927 to write Orlando: A Biography, which has been called “the longest and most charming love-letter in history”, her intention was to pen “a joke… a writer’s holiday”, but this 90 year old story has serious resonance with today’s queer politics beneath its fun and frivolous surface.

Following the sell-out success of our 2016/17 show, The Tiger’s Bride by Angela Carter, Marvellous Machine Theatre Company is back with a production of Orlando, adapted by playwright Sarah Ruhl (In the Next Room [or The Vibrator Play], For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday). Our warm and funny romp through history embraces both the fun and the seriousness of Woolf’s novel. To bring this incredible story to life, we’re combining Becki Jayne Reed’s beautiful original live music and innovative foley creations, gorgeous costumes by Immy Howard Millinery, and Katrin Padel’s stunning use of light and shadow, as well as physical theatre inspired by Frantic Assembly.

To begin our exploration into the text, we played with character constructs, switching parts from actor to actor. What, we wondered, does a man’s experience bring to the portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I, and what does a young woman bring to the portrayal of a 16th Century Russian Sea Captain? Woolf believed that “the androgynous mind is resonant and porous …naturally creative, incandescent”, so this approach seemed to connect wonderfully with Orlando. We chatted to LGBTQIA+ English Literature and Queer Studies students from Oxford University, who helped guide us through some of Woolf’s most pertinent themes, and spent time diving into her gorgeously rich language and motifs. We tried meditative exercises to develop truer connections between Orlando and their loves, and experimented with ensemble-making games to help the chorus exist as one entity.

Marvellous Machine is a young, unfunded theatre company, but we embrace with open arms the challenges this throws our way. How, with a small budget, will we transport the audience from the court of Queen Elizabeth I to the mystical sands of Constantinople? We believe that theatre, with its roots in religious ritual, is the last bastion of magic. We believe in the power of homespun, magical storytelling in all forms, to whisk audiences away to another world where nothing is quite what it seems.

What is the self? Is a fixed identity possible? Can you ever really love or be loved until you have accepted your self, fixed or unfixed? These are just a few of the questions raised in Orlando and we hope that we have presented these serious themes in a funny, joyous adaptation, and that you’ll enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed making it.