The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! ★★ Jermyn Street Theatre | Nov 17 - Dec 17, 2022


Gustave Flaubert's 1856 novel was a sensation, and it went from being the subject of an obscenity trial to becoming a classic of French literature. Emma Bovary is a young woman who marries a doctor and lives in small provincial town. She longs for a more romantic and exciting life, and her dissatisfaction leads to an indulgence in both reckless extravagance and a series of love affairs. Her story ends in both despair and death. The current production approaches the narrative from three different perspectives. Like any 19th century morality tale, Emma's story is good material for parody and much of this show goes for broad humour at the expense of the 'outdated tale of a fallen woman.' Unfortunately, the humour wears thin as what might work as a short skit is drawn out and becomes repetitive. Indeed, one whole slapstick scene is repeated for no apparent reason. The second approach to the narrative is to take it seriously, and this is the predominant tone of Act II. Unfortunately, after the send-up of the characters and the situation throughout, it is difficult, despite the good efforts of the cast, to switch gears and suddenly take the story somewhat seriously. It is simply no longer possible to work up any sympathy for Madame Bovary's plight and her downfall. Added on top of these two clashing readings of the material is the attempt to create a meta perspective on the narrative. The fourth wall is broken and the audience is engaged in a discussion of how the tale might unfold as either a comedy or a tragedy, depending on the use of a comic framing device. This allows for some discussion of Flaubert's theme about the disempowerment of women during his time, but it doesn't really pull the show together. The cast work well together and bring lots of energy to their roles, but they are working with what seem to be incoherent and incompatible viewpoints on what has been described as "the perfect work of fiction."

Rated: ★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Steve Gregson.

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