V&V –VAULT Festival, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer and Director: Misha Pinnington

Two love affairs begin, and then falter in Misha Pinnington’s delicate V&V inspired by the letters of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Before they embarked upon their romance, these two women addressed each other formally as Mrs Woolf and Mrs Nicolson, a convention absent on the dating apps of the present where two other women struggle to communicate.

Heather Wilkins and EM Williams play Virginia and Vita and also the fictional couple Lottie and Mia. At first the epistolary communications between the two writers are a joy to hear, as flirting increases and as guards are dropped. These letters from the 1920s and 30s prove to be an easier way to correspond than the text language of today.

When they first start chatting online, Lottie and Mia panic about being too eager, or too distant. How long should you wait before replying to a message, and how many kisses are appropriate when you’ve never met before? These pitfalls are familiar to many and when Mia and Lottie move on to WhatsApp, the stakes are raised in that you can see when your message has been read, or when the other person is replying. In comparison, Virginia and Vita had to wait for the postman.

But soon – perhaps too soon for this 60-minute play – jealousies seep in to both relationships. Vita is seen in a fancy restaurant with another woman while Mia is suddenly too busy to meet up. As paranoia increases, the written words expose the fragility of language. Virginia fears that something in her letter has upset Vita, and in her next dispatch wishes for a paint box of colours in order that she could ‘shade her words with meaning’.

As Virginia/ Lottie, Heather Wilkins is excellent and an undercurrent of fear swims underneath both characters’ inexperience in queer relationships. Lottie’s innocence when it comes to sexting is very funny, and Wilkins shows great comedy talent here. EM Williams plays Vita/ Mia, both of whom are more comfortable and confident. Mia always has her hands in her pockets; Vita is always a little arch with her tone. Both actors utterly convince with their pair of characters.

The lights (Rachel Sampley) sweeping the stage either in blue or red are perfect in showing these women alone, the blue adding some nostalgia to the 20th Century. The music (Nicola Chang) is good, too, with snatches of summery piano signifying the earlier time period while a modern sound, almost the theme music of a quiz programme, tells us we are in our times of apps and emojis.

Pinnington’s play is mature and intelligent, and will make you want to take down from the shelf Orlando, Woolf’s gender-swapping novel based on Sackville-West. When Woolf finished the novel, she wrote to Vita; “Did you feel a sort of tug as if your neck was being broken?’ Gripping stuff.

Runs until 8 March 2020

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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