Neil Bartlett and Sarah Ruhl: Working with Orlando

I'm sick to death of this particular self. I want another.

Playwrights Neil Bartlett and Sarah Ruhl come together in conversation to discuss their adaptations of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando.

Both versions were recently staged in London, and garnered ecstatic reviews. Ruhl’s play was described as ‘an incredibly faithful adaptation’, one which ‘ekes out every last delicious delicious drop of wit from Woolf’s text, as well as the voluptuous beauty of her language.’ (Arifa Akbar, The Guardian), whilst Bartlett’s ‘giddy’ adaptation ‘radiates gleeful intelligence, rampaging heart and tremendous fun.’ (David Jays, The Guardian).

In this exclusive conversation for the Royal Society of Literature, the writers will reflect on the process of adapting such a shifting, shimmering story, how best to take Woolf’s language from page to stage, and why they set about it in the first place.


Neil Bartlett is an acclaimed theatre director, playwright, novelist and translator. As well as creating many original pieces for the stage, his adaptations and translations have been performed throughout the world. His acclaimed adaptation of Orlando, starring Emma Corrin, ran from November 2022 to February 2023 at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End, and was met with rave reviews.

Sarah Ruhl is a playwright, essayist and poet. Her plays include In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, The Clean House, Passion Play, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Melancholy Play; For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, The Oldest Boy, Stage Kiss, Dear Elizabeth, Eurydice, Orlando, Late: a cowboy song, and a translation of Three Sisters. She has been a two-time Pulitzer prize finalist and a Tony award nominee. Her plays have been produced on and off-Broadway, around the country, and internationally where they have been translated into over fifteen languages. Originally from Chicago, Ms. Ruhl received her M.F.A. from Brown University where she studied with Paula Vogel. She has received the Steinberg award, the Sam French award, the Susan Smith Blackburn award, the Whiting award, the Lily Award, a PEN award for mid-career playwrights, and the MacArthur award. You can read more about her work on Her two books of poetry are published by Copper Canyon Press, and her collaboration with poet Max Ritvo, Letters from Max, was published by Milkweed. Her book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write was a Times notable book of the year, and she most recently published Smile, a memoir which was listed by Time magazine as a must-read book of 2021. She teaches at the Yale School of Drama, and she lives in Brooklyn with her family.

14/06/2023 from 12:00 AM to 12:00 AM
United Kingdom