Saturday 20 July 2019

A Room of One's Own review

In her essay, Women and Fiction, Virginia Woolf discussed why women throughout history were so limited in achieving success in literature. The essay and the series of lectures it evolved into in 1928, remain a potent feminist examination on three areas: what women are like, women and the fiction they write, and women and the fiction written about them. 

In A Room of One's Own, Peta Hanrahan has taken Woolf's words and adapted them for the stage putting her 90-year-old thoughts under a compelling new light. First performed in 2016 at La Mama Theatre, Hanrahan's production returns for a second season at fortyfive downstairs with four actors expressing Woolf's thoughts and ideas as if they were an internal dialogue. Hanrahan eloquently interprets these to present an intelligent and articulate conversation on feminism while ensuring a relevance to the contemporary world we live in.

What is especially refreshing about A Room Of One's Own is that it is a feminist piece written by a woman and directed by a woman. There's been a recent influx of such productions in Melbourne written and directed by men, which while important are predictably filled with rage and anger. With a female understanding - and lived experiences - regarding gender equality and the treatment of women, this production never comes across as if it's attacking you, blaming you or forcing you into thinking something. Instead it allows the words to wash over you and to deeply consider how frighteningly little has changed in almost a century. 

Anna Kennedy, Marissa O'Reilly and Jackson Trickett reprise their roles from the original season, with each displaying a unique representation of Woolf's words. As The Sceptic, The Diplomat and The World respectively, they are completely at ease with their portrayals. Joining the three for the first time as The Questioner is Anthea Davis, who has quite a presence with her costuming, tone of voice and body language but yet never takes away from the other actors. For a show that has minimal set, lighting, props and sound, much of its success relies on the actors' skill to ensure we are constantly engaged and fortunately this is not a problem for this talented cast. They are intuitively connected with the work and also with their ability in supporting each other at all times.

Whether the show switches its style from an internal dialogue to the lecture it is based on and vice-versa, Paul Lim's lighting design maintains a continual level of intimacy with what is being shared to us and between the four actors. Dagmara Gieysztor's minimal but notable set design includes various columns made from books in decorated patterns, reminding us of the history of the words we are hearing and also bringing to mind all the unread and forever lost words by women writers. 

With A Room of One’s Own, Hanrahan delivers a richly absorbing exploration on the place of women in society through a literary lens. This may be an issue that we hear about often but its gentle and considered approach doesn't lessen its provocation at all, but gives this work the opportunity to become something even more powerful. 

Venue: fortyfive downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: Until 28 July | Thurs - Sat 7.30pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $43 Full | $38 Conc
Bookings: fortyfivedownstairs

Image Credit: Tommy Holt

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