Katie Mitchell directs Virginia Woolf’s Orlando with the Schaubühne troupe

Photo Stephen Cummiskey

At the Théâtre de l’Odéon, the British director is content to illustrate, in video, the novel by Virginia Woolf. Scenographically mastered, the process is a bit short to reveal its depth.

At first glance, Orlando had to fit Katie Mitchell like a glove. In the past, the British director had repeatedly proven her taste for the theme of sexes and genres that she often likes to grind. In the wake of Elfriede Jelinek, she had known how to take the opposite view of the myth of Orpheus with Shadow (Eurydice says) or transform the “Madame” of Good of Jean Genet as a transvestite man. Used to radical biases, this time she was curiously petrified and let herself be devoured by Virginia Woolf’s novel, without leading any theatrical combat.

The intimate and historical fresco drawn by the British novelist nevertheless had something, under its air of false biography, to give grain to grind to Katie Mitchell, always in touch with the most burning societal themes. Over nearly four centuries, from the end of the 16th to the beginning of the 20th, it tells the story of Orlando, a young English nobleman, of whom Queen Elisabeth Iʳᵉ made one of his most unfaithful courtiers. Androgynous poet and dreamer, he does not succeed in finding his place in this patriarchal society, and seeks himself through encounters that resemble a headlong rush. From journey to journey, he falls asleep one evening, for several days, and wakes up one morning in the body of a woman. In him, nothing has changed, and yet human society gives him a completely different image, and gives him a completely different place.

Between fantastic springs and hyper realistic content, Virginia Woolf is less interested in making her character than in her being, in her adventures than in her psychology. In this novel, very sulphurous for the time, the narrator occupies a preponderant place. Far from being a simple storyteller, he is also an actor, who stages himself and prides himself on more or less regular comments. This particular literary grammar, Katie Mitchell has chosen to take over. With the same device as in its dull Disease of death, it encloses a narrator in a semblance of a radio jar and the charge of unwinding the thread of the story, as if no adaptation were necessary. Except in the theater, the process works much more difficult than in literature. Everything is from the start put at a distance, sadly and prosaically devitalized, without reading or apparent bias.

The actors of the Schaubühne are then largely under-exploited, relegated to the rank of extras in a filmed theater – the hallmark of Katie Mitchell – in which they are only very rarely granted the floor. Despite the scenographic mastery and performance of Jenny König and Konrad Singer, the ensemble is limited to a primary illustration of Virginia Woolf’s novel. Between images recorded and filmed live, linked together by a sometimes crude editing, the whole is stuck in a cinematographic aesthetic worthy of a British series of the 1980s, far, very far from the beauty of Shadow (Eurydice says). Above all, Katie Mitchell’s desire to extend Orlando’s life to the present day – box of stamps and smartphone as proof – results in nothing other than yet another infertile pirouette, symbol of a show where the director had, no doubt and ultimately, nothing to add to the original text.

Vincent Bouquet – www.sceneweb.fr

de Virginia Woolf
Directed by Katie Mitchell
Avec İlknur Bahadır, Philip Dechamps, Cathlen Gawlich, Carolin Haupt, Jenny König, Isabelle Redfern, Konrad Singer et Nadja Krüger, Sebastian Pircher (caméras), Stefan Kessissoglou (perchman)
Adaptation Alice Birch
Lily McLeish artistic collaboration
Scenography Alex Eales
Costumes Sussie Juhlin elections
Visual design Grant Gee
Video Ingi Bekk
Ellie Thompson video collaboration
Music and sound Melanie Wilson
Light Anthony Doran
Dramaturgy Nils Haarmann

Production Schaubühne Berlin
Coproduction Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe, Teatros del Canal – Madrid, Göteborgs Stadsteater / Backa Teater, Teatro São Luiz – Lisbonne
In collaboration with the European network Prospero
With the support of the Cercle Giorgio Strehler

Duration: 1h50

Odeon Theater of Europe, Paris
from September 20 to 29

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