Wait! What? I like theatre now? Highfalutin theatre? I didn’t expect to enjoy Vita and Virginia, and I loved it.
I say “highfalutin” because NKP Theatre’s two-woman show Vita and Virginia feels sophisticated, upper-class, and educated. It feels like it’s about a world above mine and people so much smarter than me that they could be aliens.
… and yet Emma Francis (Vita Sackville-West) and Ruth Cattell (Virginia Woolf) bring the two intellectual powerhouses to life with such style, charisma and realism that I also felt and believed every moment of it.
Vita and Virginia is based on a real story about the poet Vita Sackville-West and the writer Virginia Woolf. Woolf (not the American) may have been one of the most important 20th-century British writers, certainly from the modernists and Sackville-West, a gardener and, more importantly for this play, an award-winning poet.
What to expect
Held in venue 9, theSpace venue off Niddry Street, you’ll spend nearly an hour with two actors, two seats and a table. It’s a small space the size of the world as Vita travels.
The format was unusual to me but probably the mainstay of theatre. The two women do not talk directly at each other. Often, in fact, they move around as if the other was not there.
Vita and Virginia is 50 minutes of incredibly well-written letters read by their authors. Sometimes the other reacts, sometimes not, and we have to wait for their reply to find out how they felt.
Virginia Woolf has a sharp tongue!
Expect a queer and feminist narrative and also to be reminded of how often we don’t get that. I’m a straight white guy. I’m middle-aged. I said these two women sometimes felt alien to me, but their hearts did not. Their love, anxiety, concerns, frustrations and all the human bits tied me to them. The dinners and high society faded away to mean next to nothing.
As the venue is on Niddry Street, you might also get the random lullaby of a passing train. Welcome to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Vibe and Performance
Emma Francis and Ruth Cattell smash it. Each gives incredible, powerful, provocative yet heart-felt, down-to-earth performances. I’m sure both Vita and Virginia would roll in their graves at my use of phrases like “smash it”, but that’s all I have for you in an analogy that might also feature “home run” and “knock it out of the park”.
There’s love and raw human emotion.
It’s rarely lovey-dovey, though, and there’s a bitter ending. Vita and Virginia tackle some dark topics and should have a trigger warning for Virginia Woolf’s tragic end. I’m stupid, and I didn’t know.
The show is rated 12+, and I would say it’s not one for the kids, but, once again, I’m demonstrably wrong as directly across from me sat a young family with barely teens, and the performance all absolutely spellbound them.
I wonder if the original screenplay is as good as the abridged version by Eileen Atkins.
I queued outside venue Nine at Niddry Street, regretting my choices. I left venue nine feeling smug after seeing such an incredible performance.
Vita and Virginia is a powerful, compelling, emotional stage play, and Emma Francis and Ruth Cattell work empathic wonders on Eileen Atkins’ masterful abridgement.
A review of Vita and Virginia (Abridged)
Vita and Virginia is a moving and thought-provoking play that explores the complex relationship between two brilliant women. Emma Francis and Ruth Cattell give outstanding performances as Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, respectively. They bring the characters to life with empathy and understanding, and their chemistry is undeniable. Atkins’ abridgement is masterful, capturing the original text’s essence while making it more accessible to a modern audience.