How Katie Mitchell's Orlando Challenges And Celebrates Gender And Identity

By Maria Bregman

Theatre is often a medium to explore the complexities and fluidities of gender and identity. But few works have done so with such originality and audacity as Orlando, a theatre adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel, directed by Katie Mitchell and performed by the Schaubühne at the Berliner Festspiele.

The novel, which was published in 1928, tells the story of Orlando, a young nobleman who lives for centuries and changes sex from male to female. The novel is a literary masterpiece, as well as a personal tribute to Woolf’s lover, Vita Sackville-West, whose family history and androgynous appearance inspired the character of Orlando.

The play, which premiered in 2019, is a faithful and inventive adaptation of the novel, which preserves its wit, poetry, and irony. The play also updates and expands the novel’s themes, by incorporating contemporary issues and perspectives on gender and identity. The play is a hybrid of live theatre and film, which creates a dynamic and immersive experience for the audience.

The play is performed by a cast of six actors, who play multiple roles and switch genders throughout the show. The actors also operate cameras and microphones, which capture and project their actions and dialogues on a large screen above the stage. The screen shows both the live footage and the pre-recorded scenes, which are edited and mixed in real time by a video artist. The screen also displays subtitles, which translate the play from German to English, as well as quotes and images from the novel and Woolf’s life.

The play is divided into six chapters, each corresponding to a different period and location in Orlando’s life. The play begins in the 16th century, when Orlando is a young man who serves as a page to Queen Elizabeth I. The play then follows Orlando’s adventures and transformations, as he travels to Constantinople, becomes a woman, returns to England, falls in love, writes poetry, and witnesses the changes of society and culture, until he reaches the present day.

The play is a remarkable achievement, both artistically and technically. The play showcases the talent and versatility of the actors, who deliver both comedic and dramatic performances, as well as the skill and creativity of the director, who orchestrates the complex and seamless interaction between the live and the filmed elements. The play also features stunning costumes, lighting, sound, and video, which enhance the mood and symbolism of each scene.

The play is a challenging and provocative work, but also a celebration of creativity and diversity. The play challenges the audience to question and rethink their assumptions and expectations about gender and identity, as well as their relationship to history and literature. The play also celebrates the power and beauty of creativity and diversity, as it portrays Orlando as a free and joyful spirit, who transcends the boundaries and conventions of his/her time and society.

Orlando is a theatre adaptation that honors and enriches the original novel, as well as a theatre production that pushes and redefines the boundaries of the art form. It is a theatre experience that engages and entertains the audience, as well as a theatre work that inspires and enlightens the audience. It is a theatre masterpiece that deserves to be seen and appreciated by theatre lovers and newcomers alike.