Review: Madame Bovary at The Liverpool Everyman
February 16, 2016
THE Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! Gustave Flaubert’s complex novel lovingly derailed by Peepolykus and adapted by John Nicholson and Javier Marzan does exactly as promised on the cover of the theatre programme.
In a fruitful partnership with Nuffield theatre group (Southampton), Bristol Old Vic and Royal and Derngate (Northampton), the E&P’s artistic director Gemma Bodinetz and her team have thrown everything except the kitchen sink at this classic tragedy of domestic bliss disintegrating into scandal and regrets, creating a bawdy, slapstick farce with knobs on.
Like the jazz downstairs in the Everyman bistro, this is witty, clever and stylish but with extra helpings of surreal absurdity. Peepolykus know that great tragedy is infused with comedy and vice versa and here poor Emma Bovary’s trials and tribulations at marrying the wrong man are played out for laughs with funny props, an inventive set design and heroic costume changes as four actors take on a staggering 29 different roles, including themselves (more of which later). (Photo Credit Jonathan Keenan)
John Nicholson is an endearingly hapless Charles Bovary, Jonathan Holmes a sly and seedy fabric salesman and Javier Marzan hilarious as at least two of Madame’s lovers, but Emma Fielding as Emma Bovary is the real star of show.
The star of the book might be seen as beyond redemption, a romantic sensualist who puts her dreams before reality. She’s forever overwhelmed by her emotions and makes the same mistakes again and again, forsaking her duties to run after a life of champagne, shawls and er, quite possibly shag pile carpets. And there’s no shoulder to cry on; no friends or confidantes and no faith: in church she finds only fools, male clergy hysterical over trivia with nothing to help her. Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are on her cheeks, among all her lovers there are none to comfort her.
Here Fielding makes Emma not just passionate but also game for a laugh, funny, interesting, sexy and sweet and who wouldn’t fall for a girl like that?
She struts and swoons all over the stage, from Benny Hill horseplay and Carry On wordplay one moment to red-hot passions the next; a hilarious, magical love scene in the forest is so good it’s repeated after the interval, although in such a long show (nearly three hours) it’s not surprising the action gives way to (a little) sober reflection after the break.
More than once the actors take serious liberties with the so-called ‘fourth wall’ of drama. They don’t so much break it as career headlong into the front row seats and set up a script discussion group on all matters that might be troubling the audience. Things like a framing device, plot structure and false endings and also serious issues, like feminism. We’re reminded that in the middle of the 19th century society was set against the likes of Madame Bovary and that then, even now, women of her tastes and sensibilities do not have the freedom to be themselves. Perhaps she should have gone into acting.
Running at the Liverpool Everyman until Feb 27.