Review: A Room of One’s Own

Sentient Theatre sets thoughts alight

 By Leeor Adar 

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” – V. Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own remains so powerful it leaves my mind gaping at the beauty of her words, and the astonishing strength of what they carry. It is, and will always remain, a masterpiece by a woman, for women. Adaptor and director, Peta Hanrahan masterfully returns her adaptation to stage since its successful season in 2016 at La Mama.

Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is a work ripe for adaptation and as Hanrahan points out, the words are no longer confined to their pages, breathing a new life into all that they offer – something which Woolf herself did in a lecture in 1928. In this adaptation, the dialogue is extracted from Woolf’s writing into a new medium and expressed by four narrators. The words restlessly turn the lived experiences of women and their sex across generations of voicelessness. Without the tools to articulate their insights and feelings, women have been historically forgotten and obscured by “reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size”. We are reminded of all the doors closed in our faces, the education denied us, and the pleasures extricated from our lives from the pincer-like fingers of man and his indoctrinated disciples. The anger expressed in the language used to demean women in historical texts and even great literary works is a documented example of fear and an absolute lack of reason. Despite being such loathed creatures, Woolf clearly shows that women remain man’s obsession.

I absolutely loved how this production pulled the string of a history of mistreatment and fashioned it into a living and breathing criticism of the tired trope of women’s inferiority. It remains relevant both then and now, and without needing to examine the state of our world today, Hanrahan’s production sets our thoughts alight.

Much like Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, the multi-narrator work is explored wonderfully through fluid dialogues on stage between The Questioner (Anthea Davis), The Diplomat (Marissa O’Reilly), The Sceptic (Anna Kennedy, also producer), and The World (Jackson Trickett). The strength of Hanrahan’s direction is evident in the engaging way her cast approaches the complex and eloquent material. The work feels like an enlightening reverie, and in this hour, we are invited into an articulate trance. Each actor embodies their role perfectly; Davis opens the dialogue like a seasoned lecturer, O’Reilly’s ethereal presence gently coaxes us to consider all viewpoints and Kennedy is magnetic with her casual wit that is both thought-provoking and on point. As the only masculine presence on stage, Trickett approaches the dialogue with respect – an outsider of sorts commenting from ‘the world’ at large.

Dagmara Gieysztor’s set design is minimalist to the unconcerned eye, but we are in fact surrounded by thousands of pages from books, strung up and fashioned like chains of history. Layer upon layer, laying down the foundations from one generation of writers to the next, androgynous minds unencumbered.

I think Woolf would have loved this production, grateful to see that her writing has inspired another generation of women to continue to create and explore fearlessly.


A Room of One’s Own runs until 28 July at fortyfivedownstairs. Tickets are available online or by calling the box office on (03) 9662 9966.

Photograph: Tommy Holt