Madame Bovary at the Hope
Director Holly Maples and writer Rosanna Lowe’s Madame Bovary could be the product of four thespians being locked in a black box studio for a prolonged period with nothing but a chest of fancy dress outfits to keep them occupied – left to go slowly bonkers. It is wonderfully flamboyant and packed full of countless clever little dramatic techniques. Based on Flaubert’s 1856 novel, it tells the tale of Emma Bovary, a fiercely spirited and emotional young woman, whose feelings of suffocation in 19th century bourgeois society lead her to spiral into hysteria.
The play is driven by the ongoing narrative, adapted from the novel, which is spoken by the actors throughout whilst they also fulfil the roles of several different characters each, slipping smoothly between perfectly-honed accents like channels on a TV. Chapter titles are spoken aloud, punctuating the story.
Props are expertly used and reused, as in a child’s make-believe game. Leather-bound books (one of our protagonist’s passions) litter the stage and serve as cigarette case, mirror, letter; a box of fabrics provides luxurious costumes; a shimmery length of cloth represents the magnetism between Emma and Leon. Prettily stylistic moments include torchlight shining on and off Leon’s and Emma’s faces to distinguish between their words and thoughts, and on crystals in the blackened room to create a dazzling, fractured light display.
Tight choreography sees the action swelling into every corner of the tiny space. The action happens mere feet and inches away from the audience and we’re drawn in with plenty of prolonged eye contact throughout. Classically trained voices project: caricatured and whimsical. A handful of drag moments and many enjoyable characters win plenty of laughs.
Sarah Lawrie’s wide-eyed and breathless melodrama as Emma is comical, but we also pity her frustration at the confinement of the female lot. She wants “to travel”, wants “violent pleasures” but then tries very hard to be pious and good. The entire cast is highly capable and the actors make the most of the many little humorous lines.
Boasting enchanting language and a romping, energetic pace, Madame Bovary is a delightful piece of entertainment topped off with a suitably dramatic ending.
Madame Bovary is on at the Hope Theatre from 15th until 30th August,for further information or to book visit here.