Between the Acts 2021: An Adaptation in Progress
Between the Acts (1941), Virginia Woolf’s final novel, contains fragments of a pageant never intended for performance before a live audience. This panel explores the tensions – ethical, creative and intellectual – inherent to a project of adaptation, which seeks to realise not only the pageant of Woolf’s Miss La Trobe, but also the world of the novel from which it emerges. In so doing, both the panel and the adaptation in progress we describe press upon the intersections of performance, text and context.
This project is timed to mark the 80th anniversary of the novel’s publication, and the 80th anniversary of its author’s death. At the same time, this project seeks to draw out the contemporary social, political and artistic relevance of Between the Acts. Woolf wrote the novel under extreme pressure: personal and geopolitical. It was published in a country at war, with a heightened sense of national self-consciousness, if such a state can be described. It strikes at the heart of issues that remain urgent preoccupations, chiefly the matters of community coherence, collective responsibility and shared understanding. Our adaptation asks what it means to listen to and to see ourselves, and each other, in such a febrile and fragile environment.
In the course of the panel, we will present and explore distinctive choices we have made early in the creative process for casting and designing the production – choices which are informed by sources as distinct as Danny Boyle’s Isles of Wonder (2012), the AHRC-funded project The Redress of the Past: Historical Pageants in Britain, 1905-2016, the RSC’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation (Erica Whyman, 2016) and Carol Ann Duffy’s My Country; A Work in Progress (Rufus Norris, 2017). Our focus will rest on a key aspect of our adaptation: how communities across the United Kingdom might be involved in realising Woolf’s original pageant and in expanding the period ‘between the acts’. Miss La Trobe’s pageant covers several centuries: she begins with the medieval and ends on a precipice, a June day in 1939. In our production, we envisage extending the performance to take account of subsequent shared pasts, presents and futures nationwide. How would communities in today’s UK play out the last 80 years and look forward to the next?
In addition to describing the process of adaptation, we want to use the opportunity to present at English: Shared Futures to discuss how the novelist’s style and technique frustrate broader philosophical questions of form and genre. An analysis of the ways in which Woolf uses the tools of fiction to make us see in Between the Acts has to be central to any attempt to adapt the novel into a performance. What is the effect, on the reader, of combining novel, script and live performance? How are the visualisations captured on the pages of a novel distinct from those potential scenes encapsulated within a play text, or the words and movements of a play text enacted? How is imagination different from realisation or from consciousness? Where do we sit in relation to a text, its context and our own? How do we commune with a text and with our fellow readers – or viewers? Is a reader, at once and inevitably, an audience member?
Between the Acts 2021 will be the third production made by Sidelong Glance. Lavan and Lybeck are co-directors of the company and presented their collaboration on theatre and research piece Wild Laughter at English: Shared Futures 2017.
Dr Rosie Lavan, Assistant Professor, School of English, Trinity College Dublin
Dr Eleanor Lybeck, Independent scholar, writer and theatremaker