Vita and Virginia

Previewed 1 October 1993, Opened 10 October 1993, Closed 19 December 1993 at the Ambassadors Theatre

Eileen Atkins' new play Vita and Virginia in London starring Eileen Atkins and Penelope Wilton

The 30-year-old Vita Sackville-West first met Virginia Woolf in 1922 and their correspondence continued for the next 20 years until Virginia's suicide in 1941. But while Vita revered Virginia's genius, Virginia was at times dismisive of Vita's literary skills. Now the actress Eileen Atkins has dramatised their correspondence in an acclaimed play that comes into London's West End following a season at the Chichester Festival Theatre in West Sussex last year.

The cast features Eileen Atkins as 'Virginia Woolf' and Penelope Wilton as 'Vita Sackville-West'. Directed by Patrick Garland with designs by Lucy Hall, lighting by Mark Henderson and sound by Tom Lishman.

"If I had any prejudice against the show, it was that it threatened to be one more exploitation of the over-documented, hothouse passions of the Bloomsbury set. But even that objection disappeared in the face of the naked self-revelation of the love-letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, the skill with which Eileen Atkins has adapted them for the stage and the subtlety with which she and Penelope Wilton evoke rather than impersonate the two women. What is clear is that each wanted something different from the relationship. Virginia clearly yearned not just for companionship but for romance in every sense... For her part, the patrician, promiscuous and far-more-likeable Vita seemed to crave not just an affair but acceptance of her own literary status by an admittedly superior talent... Even though I prefer plays to epistolary exchanges, acting of this calibre keeps one engrossed and illuminates the waywardness of passion." The Guardian

"The two-hander that Eileen Atkins has distilled from the women's letters contains plenty to irritate enemies of Bloomsbury preciosity... If two orchids were to communicate across a perfumed hothouse, they would surely sound a bit like this. There were times when I inwardly hankered for an exchange of letters between Annie Oakley and Biggles. Yet Patrick Garland's fine production left me feeling that even preciosity has its interest and archness its uses. Those fastidious sentences reveal much about period taste, period manners and the English habit of distancing oneself from one's feelings... Virginia admired Vita's patrician grace and celebrated it in Orlando, while persisting in her doubts about Vita's slowish mind and dullish poetry. Vita clearly worshipped Virginia's mind and muse but found her physically less than fulfilling. The two actresses convey all such contradictions superbly... More important still, they show something that survived both the passing passions and the morbid jealousies. Call it love." The Times

"No computer dating agency in its right mind would ever have paired off Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf... Yet the pair were powerfully drawn to one another, as is demonstrated by Patrick Garland's captivating production of Vita and Virginia derived from the couple's correspondence over 20 years. Starring a couple of first-rate actresses, Eileen Atkins as Woolf and Penelope Wilton as Sackville-West, the piece managed to disarm even this critic, who is both a confirmed Bloomsbury-phobe and allergic to plays based on letters... Perfectly pitched by the actresses, the extracts from the letters are, though, often brilliantly funny and perceptive and it would be unfair to dismiss this as a piece for radio masquerading as a stage play, since it allows you to see as well as hear what the two of them found in each other." The Independent

Vita and Virginia in London at the Ambassadors Theatre previewed from 1 October 1993, opened on 10 October 1993 and closed on 19 December 1993