Pamela Rabe’s presentation of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is a performance not to missed. The Belvoir Street Theatre performance allowed Woolf’s 1920s essay to shine with humour and passion. It touched on issues such as the role of culture in society, the relationship between the individual and society and, of course, its main subject, the history of women’s oppression.

Pamela Rabe in A Room of One's Own (1994)A Room of One’s Own was based on two lectures Woolf gave to women students at Cambridge in October, 1928. Her topic was to be women and fiction. Instead of narrowly focussing on existing women’s fiction Woolf entered into an analysis of women’s oppression and how this restricted the amount, and the content, of books written by women.

Woolf’s analysis of why women’s literature was so scarce in comparison to “greats” such as Shakespeare, is grounded in a rich exposition of the history of society and the economic oppression of women. In societies where women were bound by forced marriages to bear the burden of raising large families, it was not surprising to Woolf, that “great” women writers did not emerge.

Woolf asks how could women write when their time was fully occupied cooking and caring for their families? Also, the majority of women were illiterate. Woolf argues that the key to women’s emancipation is to be found in the door of a room which a woman can call her own. For this to happen, however, women need to win their collective economic and social liberation.

This one-woman play made good use of the lighting. Unlike many monologues, both of us were swept along by the flow and thoroughly enjoyed the one-and-a-half hour piece. Although written more than 60 years ago, many of the complex and interesting issues it raises are still extremely relevant today.

Adapted by Patrick Garland from the book by Virginia Woolf

Directed by Lois Ellis

Staring Pamela Rabe

Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney, August 9-28 and Russell Street Theatre, Melbourne, September 7 to October 1

August 24, 1994 |Reviewed by Francesca Davidson and Wendy Robertson

Photos by Jeff Busby