Hilda and Virginia by Maureen Duffy
Jermyn Street Theatre (short walk from Piccadilly Circus, to 3rd March
Runs 1 hr 55 minutes including a 15 minute interval
Review: William Russell, 05 April 2018
Veronica Stein, 1st March, 2018.
Hilda and Virginia, though concisely titled, is actually the combination of two of Maureen Duffy’s one-act plays: A Nightingale in Bloomsbury Square and The Choice. The former is what Duffy imagines to be Virginia Woolf’s final monologues before her suicide, including reflection on her husband, her various female lovers, her family, and Freud. The latter is Hilda of Whitby’s- the saint largely responsible for the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity- musings on the unification of Celtic and Roman Catholic traditions.
Portraying both Hilda and Virginia is Sarah Crowden, whose calm demeanor brings a very interesting ambience to both pre-suicide and mid-crisis characters. Natasha Rickman’s direction shines in the first act, finding ways to depict Woolf and Duffy’s imagery with different uses of books littering the selves of verity Johnson’s appropos chin and shelf-laden set. Maureen Duffy’s writing however, is verbose and doesn’t lend itself to the pacing this undertaking requires- Crowden struggles to maintain momentum through both pieces.
This isn’t helped by the circuitousness of Duffy’s writing (especially in Nightingale) which erases any urgency for the piece; why is Woolf telling us all this? She seems to ask no questions nor get any answers. Hilda’s story has more purpose, but gets bogged down by characters that necessitate heavy exposition. Nevertheless, Duffy’s writing is illustrative and thought-provoking- this would make a remarkable radio play.
Virginia Woolf and Hilda of Whitby were both fascinating women whose commentary on patriarchy and womanhood deem them appropriate to lace together in Hilda and Virginia. Making this connection is bold and so is much of Duffy’s writing: “Mrs. Woolf. I hid myself in Woolf’s clothing”. The production and Crowden make similar strides in the surprisingly poignant dripping stones Woolf conjures from the chest in her office and the soundscape of The Choice. If only they were riskier for these risk-taking women.
Virginia/Hilda: Sarah Crowden
Director: Natasha Rickman
Lighting Designer: Thom Collins
Sound Designer: Anna Clock