On the 7th of September I had the privilege of being taken as a guest on press night to see A Room of One's Own at the Malting's Theatre in St Albans, produced by Dyad Productions.
This was an hour-long, one-woman show, derived from Virginia Woolf's 1928 exploration of women, poverty, literature and art throughout history. I'll admit now - I went in blind. I knew nothing of the show, the company or the writers so I had no expectations to be wowed. But this show did so much more than wow. It silenced me entirely.
From the outset, Vaughan gripped us with her charm and confidence. As an audience we knew that we were in safe hands and that we'd understand this story being told to us. Vaughan didn't miss a single beat.
It's hard to formulate exactly what I thought of this show, purely because it's the first time I have walked away from a piece of theatre feeling like it has actually changed me - or rather, woken me up.
Woolf's dramatized exploration of how few women there are in art throughout history was almost like a sad song, before morphing into a call to arms. Hearing out loud, in such an eloquent way, that women are all but non-existent in the history books - unless spoken about in relation to men - was utterly heart-breaking.
The silence in the auditorium was palpable as every single one of us realised the gravity of what we were being told. For centuries women were possessions - objects of intrigue and fascination - not people with the ability to feel and create and destroy as they saw fit.
Despite the sadness of this initial message, there was no sadness in the character of Virginia Woolf on stage before us. The most fitting term would be a fire in her belly. Vaughan could have chosen to be melancholic, she could have mourned all of the lost work of these women but she didn't. Instead, she kept us moving forward, and excited for the conclusions she was going to draw.
She quickly established the connection between creative freedom and financial security, and therefore established that because women were not financially independent, they could not be creatively free. This revelation turned the mirror on us as the audience. The first thought in my head was "how privileged I am to be in a position where I can create". This related directly to something repeated through the whole show - "all you need is £500 a year and a room of one's own". (I may be paraphrasing but the sentiment remains).
Freedom to create
One of the main points raised in the show was that despite many artists distaste for material things and money - every artist needs those material things and money to be able to be truly creative and free. And despite the feminist-leaning nature of the show, this is a non-gendered sentiment. It became something to really reflect on - how many glorious stories are going untold because the authors do not have the means to explore that side of themselves? How many songs not sung? How many paintings not painted? How many stages empty of performers?
My favourite part of the show was when the idea of Shakespeare's fictional sister was introduced, named Judith. She had all the same natural born talents and inclinations as him but, as a woman in the 1500s, was not afforded the same privileges as he was. Forced to live out her life as a housewife, she became sad and eventually took her own life - only memorialised on her tombstone as someone else's wife.
The final build of the show centred around the resurrection of Judith Shakespeare, and how female-identifying writers today can honour her memory by doing the things that she couldn't do. Vaughan presented this in such a way that it truly felt like a call to arms, and I personally felt a great sense of responsibility fall onto my shoulders.
Even if we do not become the greatest writers that ever lived, as women and female-identifying people, we have a duty to honour those that had their voices silenced before us. And this isn't about going out and protesting in the streets; it's about being authentic and independent and creative. Allowing ourselves to channel the spirits of the huge sisterhood of creative women over the centuries and creating our own art.
I think one of the most poignant things about this show that will forever stay with me was the quiet reflectiveness with which we left the theatre. Although Vaughan had rallied us to be the people that we dream of being, there was also the lingering knowledge of women being used as toys in literature and a means to ensure the creation of more men.
Due to the nature of the show the audience was about 95% female. My partner was one of the only men there and one of the things he said to me as we left made me realise how important this piece of theatre actually was.
He was very quiet as we left which initially led me to thinking he hadn't enjoyed it, but he informed me that he was trying to formulate into words how he was feeling. He said to me that it had made him realise how badly he himself had been writing women and how he still had plenty of blind spots to navigate when it came to his writing.
I've spoken a lot about the thoughts and feelings that this show conjured in me, and I think that is a massive credit to the show itself, and in particular to Rebecca Vaughan. The story was so engaging, and Vaughan was exciting to watch, she had such a strong charisma and charm and was so easy to understand.
Honestly I have to say this is by far the best one-person show I have ever seen and the sense of passion and understanding that I left it with was utterly unparalleled.
October 1928. Virginia Woolf delivers two lectures at Cambridge University on Women and Fiction, which form the basis of her essay A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN, published in 1929. The subject matter, an examination of the role of women in fiction and the premise that poverty and sexual inequality impacts unfairly on women in the areas of intellectual freedom and creativity are revolutionary and are now regarded as a significant work of feminist theory. It is this idea that Dyad Productions explore in their own work, A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN.
Basing themselves on Woolf's quote that all a woman needs is five hundred pounds and a room of one's own to be herself, Rebecca Vaughan, as Virginia Woolf, takes the audience on an exploration of these themes; comparing women to slaves in the ancient world, a compare and contrast exercise with Shakespeare's imaginary sister right up to the impact the campaign for women's suffrage has had on the attitudes of men towards the aspirations of women.
In 1928, it was the year with the Equal Franchise Act that women over 21 could vote, and a mere 58 years since women have been able to have their own money and property. Vaughan explains to an audience in Woolf's stream-of-consciousness style that such advancements are all well and good, but here women are still stymied by place in society, by role, by aspiration and, most of all, by poverty. How many women have £500, let alone a room of one's own? Still primarily regarded as "decorative" and homemakers, the thought of a woman writing is like a dancing poodle "rarely done well, and you are surprised to find it done at all". Despite the works of Aphra Behn in 17th century Britain and her role as one of the first women to earn a living by writing, women's writing is still to be dismissed.
Dyad's back and forth over the accomplishments and restrictions of women in literature is mesmerising. Yes, the Bronte's were published by female authors, but they had to pretend to be male to do so, just as George Eliot did. Woolf herself has by now had major works published and will see Orlando published in 1928. We are on the cusp of the "golden age" of crime writing, with Christie, Sayers and Mitchell all becoming well-known forces in the genre, but still, women writing is regarded with suspicion. Poetry is tolerated, but prose? Works about women are mainly written by men with all the attendant viewpoints that bring, and Vaughan, as Woolf theorises that one hundred years in the future, 2028, women will be coal heavers and writers. Equality will be achieved intellectually and financially - a moot point that further reinforces the idea of poverty and sexual inequality being linked to freedom even today.
The staging of this play is simple. A simple set of a chair and a desk littered with books, the sounds of life played in the background and the use of light to convey the passage of time, but it is, above all, the delivery of the subject by Rebecca Vaughan which stands out. Peppered with quotes from Woolf herself, it is part performance, part lecture, but an hour passes quickly with complex theories dealt with easily and in an amusing and informative manner. This is a provocative and striking retelling of Woolf's feminist essay and engages the audience with theories on gender and equality in a humorous, deft and relatable way.
A Passionate performance: this is a glorious adaptation - thrilling an utterly captivating.
The award-winning Dyad Productions return to the York Theatre Royal with their latest offering, a twenty-first century take on Virginia Woolf's celebrated pre-TED talk. Here, actor Rebecca Vaughan performs Woolf's 1928 exploration of the impact of poverty and sexual inequality on intellectual freedom and creativity.
The dialogue is colourful, as crisp as an autumnal morning. Vaughan lectures her listeners with an often humorous case study on women and literature. Quintessentially British but with an air of maddening charm, she delivers this one act monologue with a gutsy intelligence. The audience in the packed out studio theatre listen in and are fully invested in her Cliff Notes with themes still pertinent today.
This relevant examination of women is played out with a sense of urgency. Vaughan commands the space with strong physicality and poise reminiscent of Woolf; a passionate performance.
The subject is fully explored in essay-style storytelling, the spectators fully invested in the action and listen intently as the themes are explored.
Poetical history dictates that, in literature and plays, women are colourful characters but as Woolf reminds us this is nothing but fiction and fantasy. Such women (especially those with little wealth) are almost absent from history. There's plenty of pause for thought here, an intimate but utterly thrilling interpretation of Woolf's work. She was, after all, possessed with a complex but brilliant mind; compelling and purposeful.
As one would expect from Woolf, the writing is wordy but it is far from heavy. Vaughan never misses a beat as the rhythm of the work flows so brilliantly.
Woolf sadly took her own life in 1941 but the memory of her novels, essays and ramblings have never felt so pertinent in this passionate interpretation of the literary genius. This is a glorious adaptation - thrilling and utterly captivating.
This one act, one woman masterclass runs at just over an hour and 60 minutes never passed so quickly.
In September 1929, Virginia Woolf wrote "It is a perennial puzzle why no women wrote a word of that extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet." 83 years later, Rebecca Vaughan uses this exact concept - taken from Woolf's essay A Room of One's Own - to open her own theatrical performance, inspired by Woolf's work.
To answer her own "perennial puzzle," Woolf explains that women must have £500 and, as her essay title indicates, a room of their own, to live independently and write. Using Woolf's very relevant but academic work, Vaughan transforms Woolf's essay into a digestible yet still incredibly important and informative performance.
Formatted as Woolf's own 'TED- Talk', Vaughan successfully emulates Woolf's exploration of the impact of poverty and sexual inequality on intellectual freedom and creativity in her production, which she both wrote and performed.
The simple set of Woolf's writing desk littered with books created an intimate setting in which Vaughan lectured her listeners on a trip through the history of literature, creativity and sexual politics.
In her one-act monologue time was used efficiently as Vaughan listed the successes that women can achieve when they are allowed to write. Starting from the beginning with Margaret Cavendish and Aphra Behn, we were told how flowers should fall on Behn's grave; she gave women the space to write by proving that women could make a living through their writing.
Vaughan then described some of our familiar friends throughout literature including Becky Sharp, Anna Karenina, the Duchess of Malfi, and Lady Macbeth who are all women that certainly do not lack character. This led Vaughan to persuasively describe Woolf's fictitious persona of Judith Shakespeare, the famous playwright William Shakespeare's sister, to explain how women writers have been excluded from the literary canon.
Such a pertinent examination of women in literature was splendidly performed by Vaughan who commanded the stage, creating a perfect balance of passion and urgency. Intelligent and provoking, Vaughan's solo show was definitely not one to miss.
Inspirational A Room of One's Own lets women's creative voices be heard.
The inspirational performance of 'A Room of One's Own', was the perfect way for the Open House Festival to return to Bangor Space Theatre after a three-year hiatus.
The covid-19 health crisis may have put paid to stunning actor Rebecca Vaughan and Dyad Productions performing in 2020 but this week's audience will agree it was well worth the wait. With a performance time of just over an hour, this was an enthralling performance by Vaughan in her one-woman show that was enlightening, disturbing at times and ultimately inspiring.
As the award winning creators of 'Female Gothic', 'I, Elizabeth', 'Christmas Gothic' and 'Austen's Women', this was a 21 st century take on Virginia Woolf's celebrated pre-Ted talk. 'A Room of One's Own' is a published version of two lectures Woolf gave to women's colleges including Newnham and Girton in 1928 and the play was created specifically in response to the changing shape of theatre during the covid-19 pandemic. Dyad's overarching remit is 'to showcase the voice of women' and Vaughan gripped the audience with her confident performance as we jolted back in time to nearly a century ago when women had just secured the vote, in the Equal Franchise Act of 1928.
In essence, the play's main theme is that a woman 'must possess £500 a year and have a room of her own' if she wants to become a writer, and explored the impact of poverty and sexual inequality on intellectual freedom and creativity, shining a light on the suffocating nature of patriarchy throughout the ages.
The audience was taken on a wry, amusing and incisive trip through the history literature, feminism and gender and met the greats such Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Aphra Behn and Shakespeare's sister - Judith.
In this superbly delivered monologue, Vaughan moved effortlessly from her chair and side table filled with books, to strolling through the college library, and looking out the window of 'A Room of One's Own'.
The play gave us a valuable insight into Woolf's character, as an independent and passionate woman, who championed the idea that women of all classes should be able to 'write what you wish, create what you wish'.
It was disturbing to be reminded that it was just 150 years ago that married women were only able to own their own property and a further five decades would pass until women were given the right to vote.
As the play drew to a close, Woolf certainly gave her modern day audience plenty of food for thought. We have certainly come a long way in the past century, but we all know we still have a long way to go to ensure a fair society for all.