Writer: Gustave Flaubert
Adaptor: John Nicholson and Javier Marzan
Director: Gemma Bodinetz
Reviewer: John Roberts
The zany yet dynamic duo John Nicholson and Javier Marzan, who make up the irreverent comic theatre company Peepolykus, are famed for taking serious literature, metaphorically ripping up the pages, injecting them with a sense of the ridiculousness and making audiences cry with laughter – yet strangely still retaining the essence and body of the work they are tackling. And that is exactly what they’ve done with Gustave Flaubert’s debut novel,Madame Bovary.
Opening at the Everyman Theatre before touring to Nuffield Theatre, Southampton; Bristol Old Vic and Northampton’s Royal &Derngate, this hysterically silly take on the classic French novel is a riot. Directed by Gemma Bodinetz who is not unfamiliar to classic tales and farcical theatre presents on the whole a well-paced and fluid production. The Everyman’s open and level stage helps the actors interact nicely with the audience – don’t worry if this isn’t your thing, nobody gets picked on here.
A strange framing device of two rat catchers being set on a course to rid the town of the vermin sets the scene yet, as the tale rides into the life of Madame Bovary, that device seems a little superfluous – however, it does help acclimatise the audience to the madcap antics of Peepolykus.
A cast of just four takes to the stage and plays in excess of 25 different characters between them – mainly shared between the Spanish clown Javier Marzan – who delights in a number of roles especially that of the magical lothario Rodolphe, and colourful larger-than-life characterisations from Jonathan Holmes. Emma Fielding takes on the titular Madame Bovary with a fierce sense of seriousness that juxtaposes brilliantly with the aforementioned clowning and John Nicholson portrays her put-upon doctor husband with a touching naivety.
Played out on a mainly open stage, Conor Murphy’s black walled set, which hides many cupboards and doorways, really comes into its own when used as a chalkboard and to help facilitate many a character change and credit must be given to the brilliantly realistic cow complete with realistic veins on the udder… But it’s Jack Knowles’ lighting design which helps to really sculpt and create time and location.
If you were looking for a traditional retelling of Madame Bovary, you are going to be sorely disappointed, but when the material is still treated with love and respect but played around with such clever comic devices, it’s hard not to be won over by its cheeky charm.
The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary!is a comic smash and, despite its slightly lengthy running time of nearly three hours, it’s a treat from start to finish.
Runs until 27 February 2016 | Image:Jonathan Keenan