Arts Review: Orlando - Sydney Theatre Company (performances to 19th December)

If there is one thing I love in my art forms it is whimsy, a production that knows itself and can be playfully quaint in its delivery. STC’s Orlando is exactly what I look for- delightfully whimsical and fancifully humorous. As the small cast intimately recounts this, technically biography but more fictional poetry, you can’t help but fall in love with the whole thing.

The tale talks of Orlando, an Elizabethan male who has the most sought after legs that even the Queen desires him at her side. He learns the “delights of love”, and talks a great deal of it, and then falls into heartbreak (and talks a great deal of that as well) and then suddenly he falls quite mysteriously asleep. He awakes in the 17th century where he parties until sleeping once again. But this time he awakes as a she. The new Lady Orlando quickly adapts to her surroundings, being it now the 18th century before she is swept into the 19th century, and finally the present.

Orlando’s stunning period costumes assists the romp through the ages, for the remaining chorus members remain consistently in “everyday” wear aside from a few props here and there. It all works so smoothly, and you never feel jarred with the changes. I think what helps with this is that the production continues through without an intermission, letting you really be pulled into this fanciful journey of our hero/heroine. For the delivery really allows this, as the four narrators and Orlando speak to us and tell us the tale. There are several delightful moments such as a stage within a stage piece of Othello, where both the onstage audience and us the audience clap enthusiastically for the actors. It’s all very fun, and a bubbling laughter is ever present.

The original novel from which the play was adapted Virgina Woolfe wrote in 1928 and yet so relevant and so well meaning is the content. The play is not heavy, but it almost cheekily highlights issues of femininity in which women are to be “obedient, chaste and scented by nature”- a feat the newly female-d Orlando quickly accepts as ridiculous. This talks to the roles of gender and transgender, for Orlando- “he was a woman” and that was that. Which leads to talks of self, for Orlando, when told she doesn’t seem "like yourself", replies that she doesn’t think there is such a thing.

It’s fascinatingly clever and entirely well delivered, which is of course thanks to a truly spectacular cast. When John Gaden first appears as Elizabeth the reaction is instantaneous, there is just something so accurate in his poise and mannerisms that no matter how many times he appears in that dress on stage it is no less cause for fits of uncontrollable chortling. This continues through all his roles, and indeed for the roles of all the four male chorus members. They jump from role to role with sometimes little more than a small prop but boy do they own it. Anthony Taufa’s Shakespearean poet is brilliant and Garth Holcombe’s appearances as the Archuduke/Archduchess are nothing short of utterly hilarious. Of course Matthew Backer once again owned the stage for me, for even when he is not in the spotlight his face holds the most fascinating changing expressions. His passion in Desdemona death scene was heartfelt, his bearing as Marmaduke rather romantically reminiscent of our Mr Darcy’s? Loving it. The final cast member is Luisa Hastings Edge who plays Orlando’s love, the Russian Princess Sasha, putting the final nail in a incredibly talented small cast.

But of course it is Jacqueline McKenzie, our Orlando, who has you utterly in love with both him and her. The role requires such flexibility, for Orlando is both male and female yes, but also has to jump time periods whilst keeping true to the characters original traits- passionate, directly spoken and witty in delivery. McKenzie does this easily, and her bearing is such a wealth of expression that you can’t help but feel completely enchanted.

Orlando is now one of my favourite pieces of theatre. As a play it has all the elements I love- being whimsical, witty and lighthearted, whilst concealing within its depths important messages of time and self. And it is this production, with a delivery by it’s cast in such a simply delightful way, that has me completely and utterly infatuated by it.


Orlando will be travelling through time and gender at the Sydney Opera House’s Drama Theatre until the 19th December. For more information visit

The reviewer attended the Opening Night performance on the 13th November.

Photo credit © Prudence Upton