Pros: Impressive characterisation, direction and timing turn this tragic tale into one of dark humour.
Cons: The noise outside the theatre of sirens and traffic disrupted the action at times and broke the spell of the story.
Those familiar with Flaubert’s debut novel Madame Bovary will recognise this story. Rosanna Lowe has adapted the novel for the stage and kept the essence of this realist tale intact. The bland routine of life as depicted in the book, and Emma Bovary’s struggle against it, is stunningly portrayed. The tragic (if not a bit dreary) novel is injected with life, colour, and vivid emotion.
The cast is made up of four brilliant actors. There is Sarah Lawrie, who plays the unhappy and tragic Emma Bovary. She is joined by Kevin James (Charles Bovary), Rob Castell (Leon), and Andrew P. Stephen (Rodolphe). Each of them play principle characters as well as transforming into other secondary characters. The attention to detail in each portrayal made it so easy to understand who was on stage, even though it was the same actor who might have been playing a different character only moments before.
The transition between characters was riveting to watch simply because all of the actors were so good at it. Throughout the entire play, all the men actively morph from one role to the other. It is not until the end that we see Sarah Lawrie transform from the vain Emma to her bewildered daughter.
The stage is set up in the middle of the Hope Theatre’s space, with the audience split in half on either side. This could have been problematic if a lesser cast had performed, but never did I feel that the action was held too long in one position. In fact this play was highly physical. It felt like the action was on steroids at times. Everything was very tactile, from the books that could be used as anything from a mirror to a letter, to the swathes of sheer fabric that connoted wealth and splendour, and the ropes that depicted the chains of everyday responsibilities. The direction was excellent and the use of these simple props worked well.
The story itself is of course tragic, but under Holly Maple’s direction the underlying humour of Emma Bovary’s life was revealed. We see her as a spoiled woman who is denied nothing by her generous, if not (wilfully) oblivious husband. No matter what she receives in life it is never good enough. Sarah Lawrie’s performance is brash and loud. At times it felt like I was watching a child throw a very elaborate temper tantrum. It was fascinating to watch!
As a whole this play has excellent pacing and good rhythm. The creative use of props and imagination was well executed. The humour of the story, which was not innately there in the book, was teased out brilliantly by Lowe’s script and Maple’s direction. Overall, I think it’s fair to say that I found this adaptation far more enjoyable than the original book.
Author: Gustave Flaubert
Adaptation: Rosanna Lowe
Director: Holly Maples
Booking Until: 30 August 2014
Box Office: 020 7478 0160