Review: ‘Mrs Dalloway’

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Considered one of Virginia Woolf’s best works, Mrs Dalloway depicts a single day in the life of its eponymous character, a seemingly disillusioned socialite hosting a dinner party in the context of post-WW1 Britain. A challenging novel, ’s adaption is a triumph, crafting an engaging script out of an essentially plotless narrative. With almost the entire action being drawn from the characters’ internal reverie, the story is principally about memory and the nature of time within personal experience. This is a loaded subject matter which is deftly explored through the intertwined dual narrative of Mrs Dalloway’s (Adela Hernandez Derbyshire) reminiscences of past relations with Peter Walsh (Anthony Ford) and Sally Seton (Naomi Cook), alongside the agonising outpourings of war veteran Septimus Smith (Ned Vessey).

A soaring triumph

Under ’s direction, this dual narrative is skilfully delivered; the latter is dealt with sensitivity, but also an understanding of the context in which the play is set. Seamless switches between past and present reveal the stark contrast, but also unwitting similarity, between the respective storylines. Combining clever staging and the physical embodiment of the characters’ inner thoughts, these varying temporalities bend into one another, creating a delightfully disorientating effect.

Castle’s Bishops dining room proves an apt venue for the play. Despite the challenges proposed by the space with intermittently echoey sound and the small issue of costume changes, the staging, in general, is used to great success. The lighting is similarly effective, particularly during Septimus Smith’s suicide scene: the combined use of jolting light effects and the physicality of the actors’ movement creates a suitably dizzying atmosphere. My only criticism of this is that the use of strobe effect lighting did not come with any prior warnings to epileptic audience members, a criticism which can be extended to many other DST productions.

Usherwood’s adaption cleverly exploits the subtle complexities of the characters, a challenge met by the small and versatile cast. Adela Hernandez Derbyshire plays the superficially charming and disaffected Mrs Dalloway with poise and charisma, persuasively conveying the multi-faceted nature of her character. Special mention must be given to Anthony Ford; as Mrs Dalloway’s past lover Peter Walsh, he is entirely convincing, oozing character and commanding the space to great effect. With palpable chemistry, the pair evoke a sense of their characters’ awkward, jolting relationship, built upon unrequited love and abandoned promises.

Quite the way to end the term

While in smaller roles, the rest of the cast are captivating, their performances resonant in the small space. Particularly noteworthy is Naomi Cook, who plays both Sally Seton and Septimus’ bereaved wife Reiza with equal tenacity. Similarly, gives a harrowing performance as Septimus Smith, bringing a physicality to the role which conveys a sense of his character’s genuine anguish and turmoil.  

Overall, Mrs Dalloway is a soaring triumph; it is an adaption which brings Woolf’s modernist text up to date in a way which resonates with a student audience. Compelling and thoroughly entertaining, as one of DST’s last performances for the near future, it is quite the way to end the term.

Image: Castle Theatre Company

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