There’s something alluring and ever so slightly frightening about descending the steep stairs at the quaint Flinders Lane theatre, fortyfivedownstairs. My childlike enthusiasm for the place has always been a constant and it never ceases to amaze me how the theatremakers transform the warehouse-like space for the different worlds that inhabit it.

It would be fair to say that I was suitably excited about the opening night of A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, adapted for the stage by Peta Hanrahan.

With this said, I can’t, in all good conscience say that I enjoyed the play. There are a variety of reasons for this but at the heart of it, I was completely disengaged during the vast majority of the performance. I found it difficult to focus on the material and struggled to understand what drove the characters’ respective musings and the decisions made around blocking.  One example of this was that anything that was performed not at eye level, I missed entirely due to the seating configuration. 

The cast was made up of four actors that represented four different corners of Woolf’s mind. This was something not necessarily made clear through the play, rather something I read in my post-play research. While Marissa O’Reilly who played ‘The Diplomat’ was the strongest performer, I still failed to connect with any of the characters, including hers. Sadly, the lasting impression of the play was that it could have been a one-woman show as I saw very little difference in the respective voices presented by the four performers.

One of the biggest performance problems was that I felt that the actors were perpetually stuck in a cycle of the one note and the verbosity of the writing proved unnecessarily challenging for the cast at times. While it was opening night, it had that distinct ‘preview’ feel to it with the frequency of mistakes and line stomping.

In short, I struggled to understand a lot of the creative choices that were made in the service of this story from the blocking to the costume design and while a humble approach to production values can be adequate if the performances carry the story, I think there were missed opportunities in this production to bring the adaptation to life.

Despite the disappointing performances and character development, the overarching themes that the play explored were incredibly relevant and did force me to ponder, as I often do, the subjugation of women throughout history. It was also clear from the adaptation and the director’s notes in the program that Hanrahan had sincere passion for the eloquent work of Virginia Wolf and was committed to revitalising sentiments adapted from lectures delivered in 1928.

The other positive was that I think that it was clear what the lasting message of the play was and that the theatremakers were committed to directing the audience’s attention to not only the enslavement of women through the ages but also the profoundly sad missed opportunities of women in the face of gender disparity. So, while I was disconnected with the play itself, the message was not lost on me and I think given the intentions of the key creatives, that’s a distinctly positive takeout.

Images: Tommy Holt