Dalloway – a review. Thank you for being a better reader than me.

Review of ‘Dalloway’ performance at The Riverfront, Newport, 21 Sept 2016

***SPOILER ALERT***

A dark room, with a single cream chaise longue at the rear of the stage, and long white panels draping down. Nothing else. This forms the set for Dalloway and it’s intriguing already.

Rebecca Vaughan appears, and straight away starts telling us Mrs Dalloway’s story. She wears a jade green shin-length skirt, with a fitted jacket of the same colour, and dark brown Victorian style shoes with a modest heel, her fair hair in a neat up do. All very authentic.

Now let me let you in on a not very well-hidden secret: I did not like this book. It was chosen for my bookclub (shameless plug: go visit my Reading Between the Wines page and join us in taking over the literary world) and I so very much wanted to like it because it would mean that when I told people that the sort of authors I liked were, ya know, people like Virginia Woolf and Tolstoy, I would actually have read something by at least one of them.

I bought the book, uploaded a photo of the book open halfway on my legs while holding a cup of tea to Instagram with hashtags like ‘ilovewoolf’, and then went back to the beginning to start reading it. I underlined a few lines in the first few pages then I got stuck. I found that the pace didn’t change. I found that the sentences ran on longer than this side note that I’m writing. I found that I had to re-read whole paragraphs over and over and still couldn’t work out who characters were. A book that describes a single day in the life of a character, and I couldn’t wait for that day to end.

In short, I gave up.

I grew tired of the effort that the book demanded of me and I’ve had to work hard to accept the fact that I’m not the Virginia Woolf fan that I thought I was (see here for an interesting book about the books we assume we will are fans of ‘Reading Dangerously’)

When my friend text me about meeting up at the Riverfront Wednesday to watch a Virginia Woolf thing she caught me at a hormonal time, having a meltdown, and I was so desperate to see her that I just said yes. She could’ve invited me to a Trump rally to be honest and I would’ve shown up. I said ‘yes, yes, yes, book me in’, and just assumed it would be the famous lighthousey one.

It wasn’t until an hour before the show that I looked up what I was going to watch. Dalloway. I see. Right. Okay. And I’ve paid for this? Hmmm. Okay. It’s all going to be okay. Just a Wednesday night I’ll never get back. No biggie. Get over yourself. My heart sank slightly, not least because I’ve just decided to give up alcohol (during the week at least), and I was going into this sober.

When Rebecca Vaughan started speaking, her eyes took on such life that I couldn’t help but be snapped out of my cynicism. I was transformed to a different age. In my frayed skinny jeans and messy bun I felt at home with this woman in her twee twin set and immaculate hair. I felt like she was talking just to me. Rebecca made you feel as though you were the only person in the room. Like you were her best friend. She lets you in. Of course, I know it is Virginia Woolf who employed the technique of using monologues and the telling of inner thoughts and secrets to make the reader feel this way, but I definitely needed someone like Rebecca to breathe life into the words. I couldn’t help thinking that the recently award winning sitcom, Fleabag, is a modern day Mrs Dalloway, with her side glances to the camera, and the outpouring of her real thoughts.

The swift change into other characters was astounding, not to mention the sheer skill of remembering ALL THOSE WORDS. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like that before, with no break or interval.

Despite being drawn effortlessly into another era, I was acutely aware of how relevant all the themes are today. I could feel what she felt. I too have spent many a moment wondering why I didn’t marry the people I should have. I felt the anxiety of Septimus Warren Smith. I felt the pity of Lucrezia trying to comfort him. I felt it all. When she snuck off into another room at her party I was there too hiding. When she pointed and talked to the thin air at the side of the stage I saw the man she was talking to. I saw him, I tell you.

The subtle arm tremor for Septimus, the leant back swagger of Peter, the wild child Sally, the whole demeanour of Mrs Dalloway herself. All just so varied. To watch such a colourful performance with nothing but while cloth and a white chaise longue is impressive. To stand there in a twin set, a slim elegant young woman, leaning forward on tip toes at the front of the stage, and make me form a vividly sharp image of a troubled ex-army man riddled with anxiety in his final moments, is incredible.

Listening to some of the lines there were moments in which I felt truly sure that Virginia Woolf must surely be the finest writer of English that has ever lived. And surely that is the meaning of a successful adaptation of a novel? – to instil or rekindle an appreciation of the original work as well as producing a standalone piece of art in its own right?

Rebecca, how exactly you’ve made me want to go back and read the book, along with all of Woolf’s other work, is beyond me. So, I want to thank you, for being a better reader than I am and for seeing all the beauty in this novel and character, and conveying it in such a deeply penetrating way.

#ilovewoolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Paintwater

My mother’s eyes looked as though they were full of black smoke. They looked like this a couple of times a year. Ordinarily they just looked muddy, like the paint water I would always leave too long before refilling when I was a child painting at the kitchen table, for whole days.

She would moan at me then for waiting until the water was a foggy brown smudge before heaving herself up from the sofa, grabbing the glass, and emptying it down the plug hole where it would create a swirling kaleidoscope pattern on the cream plastic sink. She’d then run the cold tap while she looked ahead out of the window, nearly always filling the glass until it overflowed with clean clear water.

Perhaps it bothered her so much because it’s what she did too. Perhaps she waited too long herself before she grew tired of the smudge in her eyes and that’s why she’d empty herself of food and open herself up fully to all the narcotics she could stomach until her eyes were a solid black soot, thick and heavy like the tangled mass of hair that used to hang lank down her back like splodges of black ink on white paper. Her pupils were spreading in her eyes and I wanted to reach out to her with a tissue, pinch the edge into a point and dab it into those eyes to blot away the darkness.

Cognac

My glass is taken around the corner
to be warmed,
and brought back to the bar.
A bottle of cognac
is dusted off and I’m poured
a long
unmeasured measure.

I hand over my money
and once I let go of the cold coins
I’m rewarded
with a warm glass
against chapped skin.

I handle it
as though it were a crystal ball,
with its bulbous bottom
in the palm of my hands.

I feel the muscles in my fingers relax,
and as I circle the drink
under my nose
the solitary ice cube spins
around the edge of the glass
before melting
into the toffee coloured liquid.

I take a sip, and think
about how good this drink
always looks
against burgundy coloured nails.

I hold the drink on my tongue
for a second
and let it warm every part of my mouth.

This amber syrup
with its golden fumes
melts away my ashen memories
of an air-conditioned day
in a grey office.

I think about
nothing but crispy fallen leaves,
and chocolate Labradors
pawing unfamiliar snow.

I think about hanks of wool,
piled into bookcases
ready to turn into gifts.

I think about matches
rattling in their tatty boxes,
waiting to envelop
the corners of logs in flames.

I think of fur collars and hooded coats,
antique fountain pens,
and sepia ink.

I think of the unassuming brown second class stamps,
lined up on the bottle green leather of my bureau,
ready to send
my warmest wishes
across the world.

Unashamedly bragging…

…about the fact that the inimitable blogger behind the ‘Surviving in Italy‘ scenes has allowed me to place words that came out of my head, onto her little patch of cyberspace.

Grazie mille, and I hope you all like it. Click here for my flash fiction memoir called Spoonful of Sugar. Below is a little sample.

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A Character Based on Possessions (a freewrite)

I always thought his chair looked strange without him sat in it. You had to sit in the room a long time to get a glimpse of it empty. When you did you couldn’t help but notice the difference in colour of material where the sun rarely had a chance to reach the places masked by his body. On the rare occasion that he left the confines of the chair it would be because he needed a new, sharper pencil for his crosswords. He kept a healthy supply of orange coloured 2H pencils in an old coffee jar. This lead stained old jar was always wedged into the corner of the windowsill, tucked behind the curtain and more often than not next to a red poinsettia, the pointy tips of the freshly sharpened pencils contrasting with the withered pale red tips of yet another unwanted gift from his daughter who offered endless plants instead of her time.

It always confused me how someone who couldn’t go to bed on a blunt pencil was not affected at all by the noticeable layer of light-coloured dust on the dark red radio next to their bed. I had heard the radio several times on a Sunday morning, so I knew he used it, but it was so old that even the sound coming from it sounded thick with dust. I think he was focused on the things that would keep his mind from wandering, and this was his crossword competitions, so the only things that warranted his time outside of this pursuit, was the sharpening of his pencils and the hole-punching of his competition entry forms so that he could store them and keep on track of his lack of success.  The only reason he kept the poinsettia on the windowsill for so long was for his neighbours to see that someone had been there to see him. The plant itself was just one more unnecessary object around him.

An Outdoor Scene (a freewrite)

Outside the office I can hear the traffic flowing along the dual carriageway, with a large roundabout facilitating everyone’s movement. The sound of the rain mixes with the engines to create a gritty swish of relentless noise outside the window.

The wind zigzags through the few token trees which struggle to stay green amidst the grey weeds circling their roots. At this time of day, as the offices release their workers onto the greying turf the dutiful roundabout starts to heave with fatigue, taking deeper and deeper breaths as it breathes in the approaching  cars, swirls them around and around, then spits them out the other side. The rows of cars at the edge of the shore keep growing, becoming huge tidal waves, swelling and roaring while they wait for the next wave.

People sit motionless in their cars staring ahead at the monster they must face. As they trickle forward towards their sacrifice they think of the other side and how if they just get through this, another day, they will make some changes. They just need to get through the sea storm ahead of them.

During the dead time before the storm there are people who are listening to the same radio station because their mouths are moving along in time to the same songs and I wonder what everyone sounds like inside their bubbles. They are tapping the steering wheel and waiting for their turn in the storm.