Not Afraid of Virginia Woolf
by Gregory Bunker
Ladies and gentlemen, Virginia Woolf. It’s 1928, and in what seems hardly a stretch, the Bloomsbury Collective has transformed Campbell House into Girton Women’s College – where Woolf made her first of two lectures that would together form her iconic feminist essay A Room of One’s Own. The play, adapted by Patrick Garland, is a period performance piece that sees Naomi Wright brilliantly channel Woolf’s wit right into 2013.
Naomi Wright delivers a stirring, passionate performance to the room, breathing new life into Woolf’s words, accent and all. What is interesting about this – the antiquated adjectives in particular – is that its place and time seems, paradoxically, to emphasize the universal appeal her points have even today. It is a performance that after several views would still leave you with something new. It’s pithy without pretension. And, despite it being a speech given at a women’s college about the history of women and writing, fundamentally, it speaks to everybody about inequality. Woolf’s critical irreverence is inspiring and something to cherish, and Wright’s flashes of comedy and wit, as well as her masterful command of the room, make it real. The lighting (CJ Astronomo) and cello (Cheryl O) draw you still deeper into the drama happening upstairs in Campbell House. There is something wonderfully jarring about sitting in this world, this historic house, and being invited to look out onto one of Toronto’s busiest intersections as though it’s Woolf’s London.
There is an hour-long reception in Campbell House before the show, where you can find photos, books, letters, even newspapers that are relevant to this lecture and time. You can also sip some wine, snack on some canapés, and sit by the crackling fireplaces to enjoy the live cello music resonating through this beautiful venue. Do you need to be there for this part of the show? No, but you’ll wish you had once you’re there. It’s simply too warm, too inviting to pass up. The reception also generates a unique sort of anticipation, making Woolf’s celebrity palpable and deepening the dimensions of this time warp. The best part? You hardly seem to notice: you just fall into it. And then the cello moves you upstairs…
For its theatricality, immersive ambiance, and for its depth and relevance, the intimate A Room of One’s Own is anything but a lecture.
Nov. 13 - 24
Running time: 60 minutes with a 60-minute reception
For more about this production, see this interview with actor and producer Naomi Wright
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