In this intelligent and unusual play, director Peta Hanrahan arranges Virginia Woolf’s great essay A Room of One’s Own into an hour-long play for four voices. Curiously, perhaps, it works so well as a play because of how well Hanrahan has read the essay. The play derives its drama from the essay’s dramatic elements. Like the essay, the play has what might be called an inward dramatic form: its imaginative backdrop is not the living room or the moor, but the mind. It is a play of thought, as Woolf so singularly knew how to invent them: many-voiced, self-questioning, stark, and sensuously wordy.
The essay originated in two lectures which Woolf (denied a formal education herself because of her gender) gave in Cambridge in 1928 on the topic of ‘Women and Fiction’. She opened the topic out through a sequence of radical questions, and tested these against daily experience. Her essay had, from the first, the dramatic form that its pronouns set out in its first paragraph: ‘one’ and ‘I’ and ‘you’. It set up a conflict between her stark questions and all the various accidental often humorous encounters and shocks of her experience over a few days in Cambridge and London. And her ‘I’, in the essay, was not single. ‘Here then was I (call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please …).’ Mary Beton, Mary Seton, and Mary Carmichael were ladies-in-waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots. The ‘I’ in Woolf’s essay, then, was from the first many-charactered. ‘One has only to read, to look, to listen, to remember …’
Hanrahan has discovered, in reading Woolf’s essay, an interplay of four voices. She has cast these as four characters, named in the program as the Actor I – the Questioner, Actor II – the Diplomat, Actor III – the Sceptic, Actor IV – the World. They are played, respectively, by Anthea Davis, Marissa O’Reilly, Anna Kennedy, and Jackson Trickett. Marissa O’Reilly, rightly, plays the Diplomat as something more than a diplomat. Her actor is the voice in Woolf’s essay of joy in the world. From all four actors the play demands a prodigious feat of memory. It holds to the various glories of Woolf’s prose – its shining anecdotes, quips, stops, and sudden turns. Against the bareness of its set, on its traverse stage, the language of the play creates vivid scenes.