by Lynn on November 21, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

A Room of One’s Own

At Campbell House, Toronto. Written by Virginia Woolf. Adapted by Patrick Garland.  Directed by Sarah Rodgers. Set and props by Ellen Roach. Costume by Flo Barrett. Lighting by C.J. Astronomo. Cellist, Cheryl  O. Starring Naomi Wright.

Presented by the Bloomsbury Collective in association with Campbell House Museum (Queen Street and University Avenue) until Nov. 24.

In 1928 noted British writer and activist, Virginia Woolf, gave a lecture to the women of Girton Women’s College, on the topic of Women and Fiction. Many things seemed to be the impetus for that bracing, perceptive and witty lecture. For one thing, she wanted to check an original manuscript for some information and since it was in the Cambridge University Library, and since she was there, she thought she would just check it out. But she was not allowed in by some officious man who told her that as she was a woman, she was not allowed in unless accompanied by a member of the University.  She knew that her gender didn’t matter at all to this august library, but seemed to be of vital importance to this officious twit, so she turned and left.

She mentions this incident in her lecture. As Virginia Woolf, Naomi Wright handles this with grace, subtlety and absolute seriousness with a hint of an ironic glint in her eye. Woolf talks about literature, art, the world at large and the world close up in her lecture. But one thing is clear she says, in a short, concise sentence, for a woman to write fiction she must have her own money and a room of her own.

It was an interesting world for women in 1928, I mean that in the most ironic way. They had to contend with not being allowed into a celebrated university library unless accompanied by a member of the college; with pompous clergymen who say that cats have no souls and a woman could not possibly have written the plays of Shakespeare—that said in the same breath.

A woman had to contend with a whole half of the population who took them for granted or not at all; who were condescended to; patronized, shunted aside. Woolf covers all this in her beautifully written, tempered treatise.

In a prime grey suit and simple crème coloured blouse, Naomi Wright stands at a lectern, before all attended in the grand ballroom of Campbell House and delicately, gently takes us into the world and mind of Virginia Woolf. It is a beautiful performance.  As carefully as Virginia Woolf chose and wrote her words, that’s as thoughtful Wright is in her delivery of them. Not rushed, not said as if memorized and recited a hundred times, but pondered, considered, as if saying them for the first time, to these young ladies of Girton College. The delivery is forthright, never scolding, always with a hint of humour when she comes to a particularly ridiculous thought, usually associate with pompous twit males. They are said with the confidence of a woman who does have her own money and a room of her own in which to write. She is never patronizing.

A Room of One’s Own is directed with equal care and sensitivity by Sarah Rodgers. There is no extraneous movement for effect. It all serves the piece. Musical interludes during the piece are played by Cheryl O.

Care is also taken to put the audience in the world of Girton. They are invited to have a cup of tea or sherry, a rock cake or canapé, read the Girton Gazette, peruse books in Woolf’s library and explore her bedroom upstairs in Campbell House. There they will see letters typed to Leonard, her husband, and Vita Sackville-West, also a celebrated writer of the day, and sometime lover of Virginia Woolf. There is a journal opened to two full pages of handwritten thoughts. It’s a terrific idea.

But matters are a bit misleading. When a time is given one naturally thinks this is when the show starts. Not so. This is the time of the reception, one full hour before the show  in which you are invited to a have a cup of tea and explore. This can be done in 15 minutes. It’s a bit disconcerting arriving at the time noted only to find the show starts an hour later.  That was the only wrinkle in an otherwise smooth as silk afternoon.

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