Madame Bovary - Breakfast with Emma

Gustave Flaubert, adapted by Fay Weldon
Lyric, Hammersmith

Shared Experience have largely built their reputation on adaptations of classic novels. Over the years, they have had major successes with War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre and the modern classic, The Magic Toyshop.

Now with the assistance of novelist Fay Weldon they have turned their attention to France, adapting Madame Bovary, a novel with a heroine whose tragic fate is similar to that of Anna Karenina.

The structure of the play is unusual, in that emotion is recollected in the tranquillity of the Bovarys' breakfast-room, designed by Jonathan Fensom, on the morning of Emma's intended suicide.

This gives the production an uneven quality. There is much discussion between the flighty, never-still Emma, well played by Amanda Drew, and her staid doctor husband, Charles (Adrian Schiller). He is slow to anger in the face of remarkable provocation but once he explodes in a fit of sexual jealousy, he becomes uncharacteristically red-faced, foul mouthed and violent.

The real strengths of this show, directed by the Shared Experience's joint artistic director Polly Teale, are those of the company. There is a stripped-down feel with a versatile cast of only five and few props.

The whole sad history of Emma's life is depicted in beautiful flashbacks, which reach their peak with her balletic ravishments by Simon Thorp's pair of cads. These demonstrate both her passion and her naivety.

The tragic qualities of the tale are drawn out after the interval, as it becomes apparent that the family's financial ruin and even the failure of Charles' medical practice are directly related to Emma's ambitious fantasies.

The acting company is completed by witty character cameos from Joanna Scanlan and Maxwell Hutcheon (especially as a Uriah Heep-like draper cum usurer) in a series of roles.

The structure of the play does not work as well as it might but a visit to the Lyric is recommended to those who like Shared Experience's stunning and passionate physical work.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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