Pros: Subtle shifts in tone and mood lace a darkly disturbing atmosphere through a beautifully crafted performance.
Cons: Less is definitely more, but I would have relished the tension being cranked up even more! Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper happens to be my favourite short story, so Another Soup’s production at the rustic Omnibus Theatre had high expectations to meet. It did not disappoint. From the start, Gemma Yates-Round’s charming portrayal of Alice has the audience wrapped around her little finger. Pregnant and bored, Alice excitedly awaits the birth of her daughter. She feels somewhat lonely due to her husband John’s long working hours, but it’s nothing her vivacious spirit and cheerful disposition can’t handle. A visit to the doctor leaves the audience somewhat unsettled; he undermines Alice so subtly it is barely perceptible. After the birth, Alice suffers from post-natal depression. Her interactions with John heighten the gradually augmenting tension, as he strengthens his control over her through an increasingly repressive recuperation programme. As the surrounding male dominance compromises her sanity and wellbeing, Alice becomes dangerously obsessive about the ugly yellow wallpaper in the room she occupies…
The beauty of About Soup’s production lies in its simplicity. There is nothing dramatic about the three-walled room and garish wallpaper that constitute the stage. Yet it seems to warp; expanding and contracting in size as the actors masterfully command the dialogue. The stage effortlessly transitions from a doctor’s surgery, to a country home, to an enchanted forest through simple changes in lighting. The audience is completely carried everywhere Alice goes, and it is easy to forget how basic the stage actually is.
The play seems to contort and twist as it progresses, just as the wallpaper does, for Alice. A suffocating, tense atmosphere is expertly created by director Dave Spencer. This is particularly effective due to the juxtaposition of the tragic fairy tale Alice is writing for her daughter. An excellent touch is the use of fabric for the wallpaper. Charles Warner (manoeuvring easily through all other roles) creeps behind the stage, pressing his face and hands into the walls to create a terrifying, ghoulish presence. Alice can’t quite seem to catch the roving wallpaper in the act of transformation. The absence of visual validation of what she believes is happening in the house slowly leads her into madness. The choice of costume for both characters – a simple lilac dress for Alice and matching shirt for John – is reflective of how the house gradually consumes and torments the couple. Yellow is the opposite of purple on the colour wheel, and the costume denotes that the characters should not be in this house.
It is an excellent story full of themes that require careful and sensitive exploration. The cast and crew more than achieve this, successfully creating a contemporary rendition of a classic feminist horror text. Omnibus Theatre is well worth a visit and this play, at just over an hour, is the perfect introduction to their intelligent programme.
Playwright: Ruby Lawrence
Director: Dave Spencer
Production Company: Another Soup
Production Manager: Pamela Schermann
Box Office: Omnibus Theatre (020 7498 4699)
Booking Link: https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/your-visit/box-office-information/
Booking Until: 24 June 2018