V&V, Vault Festival

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By Evangeline Cullingworth

Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West’s relationship is memorialized in their letters. Lifted from the heady Edwardian drawing rooms, phrases like, “throw over your man, I say, and come” or “I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia” are stretched out and poured over. We ache for their magnetic rapport and searing wit. We savour the sweetness of their intimacy, captured with their skill and made more beautiful as generations pass.

Has love changed in the intervening century? “Got any nudes?” doesn’t quite have the same melody to it, and so what can we learn from comparing the literary documentation of Vita and Virginia’s relationship with a fictional contemporary one? Writer and director Misha Pinnington interweaves verbatim extracts with the story of Lottie from Tunbridge Wells and love cynic Mia, mostly through the screens of their phones.

Actors Heather Wilkins and EM Williams are slick as they jump between the two relationships. The rush of dating apps and instant communication is played out to ripples of cringing giggles in the audience, it’s all too familiar. The over analyzing and calculating, the agonising wait for a response. The quick “brb” while you google advice.

It seemed that Pinnington and her actors burst through the limited text they’d set themselves from the letters. As they are performed as monologues and scenes, the letters are weighed down with imagined circumstances. A fascinating experiment, to see how a wily, literary sensation would deliver her lines directly to the older writer she so admired. It is powerfully performed, although some of the imagined subtext feels a bit far-fetched. The content of the letters feels more intimate and precious than the texts. While our contemporary pair also spend time alone carefully constructing the words they share, they are sent out hastily, with typos or from the bus stop. Taking time out of your day to sit down and dedicate a page to capturing your feelings for a loved one – it does make us swoon.

It feels the focus here is very much on our contemporary lovers, but there is little revelation in the pairing. Pinnington has a skill for capturing the particulars of the modern queer female experience, I’d be interested to see this world confront that of V&V.

V&V runs through 8 March.

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