Vita and Virginia

Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

29/06/2006 - 08/07/2006

Production Details

By Eileen Atkins
Directed by Louise Petherbridge

Vita and Virginia tells the story of the relationship between two very special women, Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Wolf. The two women were both established writers and with their respective husbands, members of the illustrious Bloomsbury set.

They met at a dinner party in 1922 and began a friendship that morphed into a passionate affair. Although their story is told largely through the medium of letters exchanged between the pair, the play appears to be full of action, so vivid is the imagery and so powerful are the emotions expressed.

The relationship (including the rift caused by Virginia’s jealousy of Vita’s other lovers) is so unambiguous, that you can enjoy the play even if you don’t have an in-depth acquaintance with the women’s work and lives.

Vita and Virginia gives us a rare opportunity to eavesdrop on the rich, talented and famous who lived in a world far removed from that inhabited by the ‘celebrities’ of today’s gossip columns.

Vita                 Terry MacTavish
Virginia           Jocelyn Harris

Stage Manager           Andrew Cook
Technical Operator    Angus Dingwall
                                    Hugh Dingwall
                                    Andrew Cook
                                    Neal Barber
Production Design      Louise Petherbridge
Set Construction         Andrew Cook
Wardrobe                    Jane McCabe
Photography               Reg Graham
Poster                          Brian Beresford
Publicity                      Roslyn Nijenhuis
Front of House           Murray Robertson
                                    Alison Finigan

Theatre ,

Literate love given life

Review by Keith Harrison 17th Jul 2006

Dunedin’s Globe Theatre is as quirky and demanding as its physical structure. Built by Patric & Rosalie Carey on to the side of their historic house it was never intended as a theatrical refuge for the faint-hearted or for those who wanted a suburban repertory experience. Today’s theatre, run by an enthusiastic group of amateurs, is the proverbial curate’s egg. Sights are set high, choice of play is often challenging and success depends on the quality of cast which can be assembled. The result is never dull.

Vita & Virginia has only two characters and this picture of their lives and their love is drawn from the range of correspondence they exchanged over a period of nearly twenty years. Author Eileen Atkins has cleverly woven together a compelling play from the letters they exchanged after their first meeting at a dinner party in the 1920s. They moved in different social circles but Vita was often away, travelling to posts in other countries where her husband, Harold Nicolson was a diplomat.

Atkins reveals an awareness of their literary style in her selection of the letters, offering the audience a clear picture of the remarkable talents of these two women. She has used a variety of sources, letters, diary entries, passages of prose and reported conversations to put together a totally absorbing and memorable dialogue in which the characters are brought to life in front of us.

Director Louise Petherbridge, doyenne of the Dunedin theatre world, has built on the rich structure provided by Atkins to create an impeccable  and powerful performance. With two powerful actors to direct Petherbridge has attended to subtleties of movement, details of light and sound, authenticity of costume and above all, encouraged the performers to reach for credibility in the interpretation of their characters.

Terry MacTavish burst upon the stage as the aristocratic Vita, confident, arrogant and sure of her place in the world.  At the time of their meeting Vita was the more highly regarded literary figure while Virginia’s talent was still to be widely recognized. MacTavish’s performance cut a more sympathetic character than the reality of the historical Vita. Born into the princely grandeur of one of Britain’s greatest stately homes and attended by an army of servants, she was hardly a shrinking violet. It is a tribute to MacTavish’s acting skill that she encouraged us to see Vita as a human being, occasionally vulnerable and sometimes overawed by Virginia’s talent. It was a brilliant performance.

Jocelyn Harris’ Virginia had to capture the character of the middle class intellectual, at first dazzled by Vita’s certainty and style. She wrote in her diary of Vita, ‘She shines with a candle-lit radiance, pink glowing, grape clustered, pearl hung’. It is to Harris’ credit that she was strong enough to bring out Virginia’s qualities against the more flamboyant Vita. She made us aware of Virginia’ strength and brought us an understanding of the depth of her love and feeling for Vita. She showed us that hers was not a passing infatuation or the kind of brief affair with which Vita spiced up her marriage but a deep and lasting love.

The production team and the Globe Theatre are to be congratulated on achieving a stunning production fulfilling Nigel Nicolson’s description in Portrait of a Marriage:

‘The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando, the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, and ends by photographing her in the mud at Long Barn, with dogs, awaiting Virginia’s arrival next day.’


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