Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Letters to more than a friend

Sue Downing (left) and Louise Fulwell as Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West

Vita & Virginia

The Nonentities

Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


WHAT a lucky woman is Eileen Atkins!

The subjects of her two-hander play are those two eminent ladies of letters, Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf – whose exchange of correspondence between 1923 and 1941 have given her a play on a plate.

That's a bit unkind. It is a play that has been moulded with skill and care after Ms Atkins was alert enough to spot the possibilities – and she has juggled the chronology for her own purposes.

Nevertheless, the letters were beautifully written, as indeed befits letters of the literati: – alert, percipient records of what became a deep love affair. This emerges in Pamela Meredith's production as an absorbing subject which blossoms in the confines of the theatre studio.

It is fortunate in having two actresses whose diction, though different, has impeccable clarity. Sue Downing (Virginia Woolf) emerges as something of a joker who is the more earthy of the two, while Louise Fulwell – who exchanges Vita's first-act pearls, pleated skirt and vibrant jacket for the jodhpurs and horsiness that she affects after the interval – is so cut-glass that it is a surprise not to see her emitting refracted rays of light in all directions.

Reading and writing: Lousie Fulwell (left) as Vita reads a letter from Sue Downing as Virginia

She is a drawling joy of terribly-Britishness – though she must take care to see that desultory is pronounced with its accent on the first syllable, not the second, as happened on the first night.

But she was completely successful in confronting a terrible line about “concupiscence of short-sightedness and the greed of man.” We were also treated to an off that is an unmistakable orf, and there can be no complaints about that while we receive our privileged glimpse into the Bloomsbury  Set which flourished from early in the last century to the beginning of the Second World War.

While Louise Fulwell's Vita flits and flirts around Persia and Moscow with her diplomat husband, Sue Downing's Virginia is at home in England with jealousy as her jailer, a fine study in anguish and frustration.

This is an evening awash with words, from which both actresses emerge with aplomb. To 12`-11-11.

John Slim 

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