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Virginia Woolf’s ORLANDO as a continuous and transformative one person performance .


Virginia Woolf’s fictional biography accounts the enduring, remarkable life of Orlando, who lives for nearly 400 years and mysteriously changes gender in the 18th century. The work is one of Woolf’s most experimental and daring pieces, communicating her own thoughts about literature, life, gender and society through Orlando’s experiences. The novel is several things at once – a history of modern Britain, British literature, and ultimately a book exploring gender and its relation with society, time and identity.

To design the life of Orlando as a continuous monologuing play in an autobiographical nature, which explores gender, time, society and identity. Orlando performs the story as a one-person play with an ensemble of silent, nameless servants that help dress them and the stage. 10 costumes express Orlando over three hundred and forty years, who adapts to be the personification of each period, changing drastically throughout the novel.

Orlando is a continuous and transformative character, and their costumes will reflect that. The ten looks will transform into one another as we travel through time with Orlando. The costumes are loosely historically placed but not accurate; instead, elements of the era will accumulate on the body and be passed along, creating costumes applicable to multiple periods just like their wearer.
Nothing on stage will be hidden – all the costume changes occur in front of the audience, allowing them to see the transformation between Orlando’s many selves. The ensemble assists these changes, who are dressed for invisibility, wearing nondescript black outfits that do not tie them to any time.

Including the audience in these costume changes brings attention to the clothes, which are the only signifier of time in the production. Just like the text, clothes indicate Orlando’s setting, gender and social standing at each point in the story.

As all of the costume changes are visible, we can think of them as ten very loosely inspired historical looks, or rather one continuous transformative costume, just as Orlando is a continuous and transformative character.

The costumes are loosely historically but using modern textiles and fabric manipulation techniques. Orlando is a poet, their adoration for word makes up much of their character, so all of their costumes will seemingly be made from elements of their writings. Sticking to an old paper-inspired colour pallet of old white, cream, beige across all the costumes unifies the ensemble and unites Orlando’s outfits in one constant area while they dramatically transform. The text on the fabric is achieved through embroidery, printing and painting, layering up the text to create the illusion of edited manuscript paper. The words on the costumes are significant quotes from the novel which apply to that specific chapter to costume would be worn in.

The costumes are built up from a base layer undershirt that Orlando is seen in when he is a man. Hidden further beneath this, a corset and bloomers are ready to be revealed when he undergoes his sex change. This becomes the new base layer for the female garments to follow, though Orlando occasionally reuses elements from her past in her new costumes.

The corset represents Orlando’s much-edited manuscript, ‘The Oak Tree’, which she develops over nearly four hundred years, and keeps close to her body – literally pressed against the heart in the book. Just like a corset, the poem both restricts and supports Orlando; it is the only thing to endure alongside her, thus a source of comfort amidst her transformations, but she also feels freed when she parts with it. Its publication, the removal of the corset, releases Orlando of words, and now feeling that she has accomplished something, she becomes aware of her mortality for the first time.

In the final chapter, when Orlando questions her existence and calls out for her true self, her discarded costumes reappear on the up until now empty stage. Assembled by the servants on mannequins behind hanging frames, the costumes look back at her, emulating the ancestral portraits in her home to whom she feels inadequate. She realises that time does not pass, but it accumulates, existing alongside the present. Orlando is the product of her past selves, of each costume.


A selection of textile, costume and stage design developments.


ORLANDO final costume illustrations and character line up.