V&V presented by Sprezzatura Productions
Updated: Mar 5
What Is It?
The love story between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, taken verbatim from their letters, intertwined with a modern-day narrative about two women who meet on a dating app.
What Is It About?
Vita and Virginia write things like, ‘It is incredible how essential to me you have become’. In 2020 Lottie and Mia type things like, ‘Got any nudes?’ But, as this production makes clear, both relationships are heightened and threatened by the performativity of the written relationship, behind which their true feelings are concealed. We no longer have to wait days for a letter, but that doesn’t mean we’re any better at communicating. The two actors, dressed neutrally in black, slide from Lottie/Mia to Vita/Virginia with little more than an arch of their voices and straightening of their posture. There’s no set to define period, either, apart from a white wicker chair and a screen - a projected phone screen for the modern narrative, a room divider screen for the 1920s one.
How Did It Make Me Feel?
The concept made me squealingly excited. Vita and Virginia’s letters gave rise to the shamelessly self-effacing declaration of passion, ‘I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia’, and the stigma-defying daring of their relationship makes their story ripe for a bit of era shifting. And, for the most part, it’s well executed, with EM Williams and Heather Wilkins relishing the sensuality and humour of their parts. The joy of the Lottie/Mia narrative hinges on us hearing all of their internal conflicts about what to write to the other before we see anything committed to text (‘It’s been 4 hours. I can reply now. Right? Is that too keen?’), and there’s a lot of fun drawn from the contrast between what they say they’ll write, and what pops up on the projection of their conversation. However, with the Vita/Virginia letters we don’t get all the ‘offstage’ action that makes the modern duologue so lively. This wouldn’t be a problem except that we also don’t get as much sense of character from what we do hear, partly because the production hovers somewhere in between presenting the letters as monologues and addressing them as duologues. As a result, the voices of their writers don’t cut through, and we end up with a generic wash of early twentieth century aristocrat. Another part of the problem here is perhaps inherent to the nature of this piece; they'd cast the two actors for the modern, younger roles, and so both, although very strong, inevitably don't have the weight of older women - Vita was in her 30s during their affair, Virginia her 40s. I’d argue that their letters need a shade of mature boldness and self-irony to really bring them to life and give them the character that, in this more sincere and subtly played retelling, they lack. The conjoining of the two narratives towards the end also ends up coming across as didactic, and oddly sentimental for a production that has previously concerned itself with the 6 approaches to sexting.
A sparky and unusual two-hander about the queer female experience, that doesn’t quite succeed in bringing the flame between Vita and Virginia back to life.
Grace AK x
V&V is playing in the Studio, VAULT Festival until the 8th March 2020.
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