Mrs Dalloway is probably my favourite novel, and as such I came to see the new adaptation at London’s Arcola Theatre feeling both excited and trepidatious. Could Forward Arena, Hal Coase’s script, and Thoms Bailey’s direction do it justice? I was worried as to how the play would adapt to the stage, with the narrative being so interiorised.
The five-strong cast (Clare Lawrence Moody, Emma D’arcy, Clare Perkins, Sean Jackson, and Guy Rhys) flit between their array of different characters. Overlapping and shared lines aren’t the characters interrupting one another, but an example of how the book shifts and shakes its way through the consciousness of the characters. The echoes of the mind are made manifest, and the shades of existence delicately shown. At times it gets a little bit confusing, but then so does Woolf’s prose. It’s a story made up of moments, and the amorphous structure that does without traditional scene and act changes beautifully represents this.
As we’re told in the opening scene, which acts of something of an explainer, Mrs Dalloway is a ‘book about London, and lots of other things.’ This production very much focuses on the other things – relationships, identity, mental health, the self – and London is part of the back drop. The set is sparse – the scenery is a simple blue sky, and we do not once hear Big Ben chime. Instead the focus is on the entry, exit, and exposition of the actors on stage. The Arcola is a simple theatre, and the production would work well in a grander setting. No doubt it will end up doing a tour or run elsewhere.
Mrs Dalloway is made up of the people and places which complete her. For this reason, the vast array of characters are given just as much presence as Clarissa Dalloway herself. It works, because it’s not just about one person, but ‘life, London, this moment of June.’ This moment is made up of many things, and the play conveys both the inner and outer worlds with elegance and inventiveness. Visually simple, but emotionally exploratory, this version of Mrs Dalloway is well worth getting tickets for.
Which Woolf novel is next?