DramaReviewSouth Coast

The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! – Nuffield Theatre, Southampton

Writers: Gustave Flaubert

Adaptor:John Nicholson and Javier Marzan

Director: Gemma Bodinetz

Reviewer: David Jobson

In the second Act of this new adaptation of The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary, Emma Fielding, out of character, expresses her belief that the play should show the six weeks of silence that the deeply depressed Madame Bovary experiences. Javier Marzan, one of the creators, argues that this will make the show boring. The irony is that some of the long-winded attempts at comedy are exactly this.

The first five to ten minutes of this production is exactly this. Opening with two rat catchers riding on a horse and carriage; you can tell that by the enormous block they sit on with a fair ground horse impaled on it. One of them, a Spaniard, keeps singing Ten Green Bottles, or a Thousand Green Bottles, much to his companion’s annoyance. Even when they pick up a blind man with an accordion and ask for a song this is the only one he can play and he does so terribly.

The rat catchers arrive in the town of Yonville. At which point the Spaniard breaks the forth wall to explain that this pointless introduction is merely a framing device of his own creation. In this hiatus the cast of four come on to argue as to how their play would do justice to Madame Bovary. It is at this moment it becomes clear that the cast includes the co-adapters of the story, John Nicholson and Javier Marzan.

Bizarre doesn’t even begin to describe this production.

To understand this it is useful to read the note from the adapters in the programme. This production explores the book’s swings between tragedy and Gustave Flaubert’s dry wit, “When juxtaposed, comedy can expose tragedy and tragedy can expose comedy” and the comedy used in this here is slapstick.

Madame Bovary is the depressingly tragic story of a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage who finds solace in having affairs with the inevitable dire consequences. among the swirling mix of comedy and tragedy, there are still moments of poignancy to be found, especially in Emma Fielding’s performance as Madame Emma Bovary. She portrays the character’s unhappiness perfectly, at one point performing the housework for her absent husband with both conviction and pain as Piaf’s “Je ne regrette rien” hauntingly plays in the background

During a ball scene in which she dances with a viscount, Bovary is trapped in a chandelier shaped as a huge dress and only by stretching out her arm can she have any interaction with her partner. Despite her cage the euphoria of this brief moment is enough to consume her.

John Nicholson plays her husband, Charles Bovary as an exultant but naïve man. He is won over by his wife’s beauty but incapable of recognising that he must fulfil her needs emotionally, as her husband.

Tall and handsome, Javier Marzan plays Emma’s two suitors. First is Leon Dupuis, a romantic at heart, but eager to move up in the world. The other is an irresistibly charming Rodolphe Boulanger. Jonathan Holmes meanwhile switches between many of the other characters, from Charles Bovary’s disapproving mother, to a slimy salesman, counting up Emma’s debts.

Generally the production tells the story clearly as it flits between comedy and tragedy. However, at two hours and 35 minutes this feels like a two hour production weighed down by writers John Nicholson and Javier Marzan’s excessive attempts at comedy.

It is the metatheatrical moments that bring the show to a complete halt, which is the intention, but there is a time and place for this. Immediately after a heart breaking moment for Emma Bovary in the second act we are brought out of the story when Emma Fielding leaves the stage out of her own personal anguish. A nice idea, except it leads to Javier Mazran taking over the role of Emma Bovary for a few minutes, before Fielding returns. Further discussion then ensues as the cast argue (for the third time) as to how Madame Bovary should be portrayed, before Jonathan Holmes appears in a dinosaur costume. For that one moment the production became The Madame Bovary That Goes Wrong.

Some of the metaphors introduced are heavy-handed too. The first act ends with Rodolphe Boulanger seducing Madame Bovary with magic tricks before we see the other actors in the background making monkey sounds.

As a light-hearted retelling of a tragic story it succeeds to some extent, and it is possible to see what John Nicholson and Javier Mazran intended. As a high-brow comedy there are some clever moments but the rest of the time it just falls flat with only smatterings of laughter from the audience.

This will certainly divide opinion. Some will love it for what it is, some will not. This production is in dire need of trimming and consistency as it is it feels like a bunch of familiar ideas have beenthrown together. This results in a production that jolts jarringly between comedy and tragedy providing a bloated piece of work.

The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary argues that a faithful and depressing adaptation would not be suitable for audiences. But perhapsat least, it will get to the point.

Running until 19th March ¦ Image: Contributed



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