Actress Anita Hegh has been dwelling on Carissa Licciardello and Tom Wright’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own since March 2020. It shows.
Rehearsals started at Belvoir Theatre in April 2020 for a March debut, before the world was plunged into lockdown in what was a particularly tough year for theatre companies. Actors, who are most often contractors, were left without income, and unable to apply for the JobKeeper subsidy. Where the government did provide performing arts subsidies, there was no contingent requirement that those funds be used to keep working actors employed.
One of the first shows to return after lockdown, it enjoyed an initial run from 10 September – 18 October, 2020. Hegh’s only prop on a minimalist stage during her unstoppable whirlwind monologue was a spindly black chair and a tiny black leather notebook. The only other actress, Ella Prince, appeared intermittently throughout the play, isolated in a discrete black box in a pre-lockdown staging decision that could not be more apt for our socially distanced world. Only illuminated upon the cue of an ominous ringing sound, Prince’s wordless, graceful movements were at times startling when she lit a flame for a cigarette, and captivating, as she drew a budding rose from her throat.
Back by popular demand for a run in May 2021, Virginia Woolf’s prose again proves timeless amidst the government’s unfolding gender crisis. Having dwelt on A Room of One’s Own for over a year, Hegh’s careful attention to particular phrases in Woolf’s spiralling stream of consciousness brings the words alive with furious intensity.
Rolling descriptions of food at Oxbridge are whimsical and light-hearted as the play begins. However, as she rose from her chair, Hegh’s raised voice clearly emphasises every word of Professor von X’s now infamous title, The Mental, Moral, and Physical Inferiority of the Female Sex. Elegantly draped in silks of charcoal and true black, Hegh infuses Woolf’s prose with pain that booms across the austere set: “My heart had leapt. My cheeks had burnt. I had flushed with anger.”
As Prince stands in her own room, Hegh explains that when women tell the truth, men shrink before their own reflection: “How is he to go on giving judgement, civilizing natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and at dinner at least twice the size he really is?” Prince’s isolated room turns to pitch black as she promptly exits, defeated.
Due to the bravery of those women who spoke out on their experiences, the government’s unfolding gender crisis has, yet again, demonstrated that women are not safe within their workplaces from violent, predatory behaviour by men. Even during the pandemic, women were subjected to higher rates of violence within their own homes and were more likely to suffer financial insecurity due to precarious casual work arrangements. Sitting in an audience of masked strangers, I wondered who among us was desperately in need of a room of their own.
As Hegh pleads with the audience to remember that the plight of Shakespeare’s sister lives on in all women, I could not help but notice that Woolf’s rhetorical question remains unresolved following parliament’s failures: “Who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?”
A Room of One’s Own is well worth seeing at Belvoir Theatre.