I saw Dyad’s production Austen’s Women last year and was mightily impressed. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is one of my favourite novels and I was looking forward to seeing Dyad’s take on it in their show at this year’s Fringe. It is the same duo of writer/director Elton Townend Jones and actor Rebecca Vaughan so the signs were looking promising from the start.
The story is set in 1920s London and follows a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares for a party that evening in her house where she will as usual act as the perfect society hostess. She reflects on her comfortable life with husband Richard, thinks of her daughter Elizabeth, of her past lover Peter who has visited unexpectedly and of a passionate stolen kiss long ago with her friend Sally. A separate story, but intertwined with Clarissa’s, is that of Septimus Smith, a shell-shocked war veteran who is unable to forget the horrors he has experienced and adapt to life in the normal world. They never meet, but their paths cross at various points throughout the day and Septimus’ fate finally and brutally intrudes on Clarissa’s consciousness. The novel was considered the first of its kind in that it is written in a stream of consciousness style, giving an insight into Mrs Dalloway’s character through her own inner thoughts as well as through the perceptions of others. It is a simple premise but a complex novel and a very challenging work to tackle as a one woman show.
It nearly works. Vaughan is a talented character actor and brings to life the various characters that populate Mrs Dalloway’s life – the snobbish Hugh Whitbread and Lady Bruton, the bitter spinster Miss Kilman, the consultant Sir William Bradshaw and numerous other observers and participants. Where it fails for me, however, is her portrayal of the main character of Mrs Dalloway.
Clarissa may be too caught up in superficial activities according to Peter and according to herself “loves living in the moment”, but she is also warm and thoughtful and has a profound impact on others. Vaughan plays her as a superficial social butterfly, a breathy girly performance which didn’t fit with the deeper, more serious aspect of the character. Peter is portrayed as a bit of a pompous snob, which again didn’t ring true for me. Vaughan’s style of characterisation is a bit exaggerated and over the top and I could see it working perfectly for Dickens but not for Woolf, not for me anyway. However, at the end of the day, it is personal opinion. The majority of the audience loved it and some were moved to give the performance a standing ovation.