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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Madame Bovary - Breakfast With Emma
by Lizzie Loveridge

A man at least is free:; he can explore each passion and every kingdom, conquer obstacles, feast among the most exotic pleasures. But a woman is continually thwarted.
--- Gustave Flaubert from Madame Bovary
Madame Bovary - Breakfast With Emma
Amanda Drew as Emma and Simon Thorp as Leon
(Photo: Robert Day)
Fay Weldon's "eight years in the writing" adaptation for the stage of her interpretation of Gustave Flaubert's shocking for its time, mid nineteenth century novel, Madame Bovary has been staged for the first time by Shared Experience under director Polly Teale. Weldon has taken several liberties with the novel. She sets it all on the last day of Emma's (Amanda Drew) life, at breakfast, when she reveals all her adulterous affairs to her unsuspecting husband Charles (Adrian Schiller) before going off to take poison (in this version maybe to take poison). Charles has to sit there with brioche stuck in his throat while Emma describes her excesses.

As an early plea for feminism, Madam Bovary - Breakfast With Emma fails to hit the spot, not that Flaubert intended this either. Instead Emma seems essentially foolish, escaping from her kindly but tedious country doctor husband with romantic affairs and spending way beyond their income. Her path to ruin is no high minded break for freedom, no plea for the emancipation of women but for her life to be more glamorous.

Shared Experience's physical theatricality sees Emma's romantic yearning excesses but it is only of great impact at the end of the first act when Emma commits adultery, screaming an orgasmic geographia of the names of Parisian streets she has memorised so that she may appear to be a part of fashionable society. "Rue St Honoré, Boulevard St Martin, Place des Invalides" she shouts. As she does this, her lover throws her around in a powerful and wild dance of physical passion covering all of the stage, banging in and out of doors in one of the best ever fun stagings of intense sexual ecstasy.

The scenes of high romance are those Shared Experience seem to relish most. At the opera Emma and her lover mime to a great operatic duet, the whole scene played with giant shadows as if lit by firelight. The scene at the provincial agricultural show works well as Emma flirts with local landowner Rodolphe (Simon Thorpe) among the prize winning vegetables and the clodhopping yokels. Rodolphe expresses the double standard applied to the sexes, "What is not forgiven women is soon enough forgiven men".

Adrian Schiller's dull as ditchwater "good" husband repels when he discusses boils and pustules over breakfast. He may be virtuous to Emma's spoilt, but Charles Bovary is way out of his depth in this marriage. Only when Weldon alters Flaubert's plot and lets Emma tell Charles about her affairs does he reveal himself as narrow minded, repressive and very angry with most unFlaubert-like language. In the book Charles is crushed because he adores Emma.

I liked Amanda Drew's performance better in the second act when she has more scope to express anger rather than the wild romanticism of the first half. Her Emma Bovary is admirably full of energy and singleness of purpose as she aspires socially to a grander existence with romantic thrills. Richard E Grant lookalike Simon Thorp plays both lovers, Leon the student and man-about-town Rodolphe and there is good support from Joanna Scanlan doubling as Emma's critical maid and Charles' disapproving mother. Maxwell Hutcheon turns nasty as Emma's major creditor Monsieur L'hereux.

I was left wondering whether the most successful of Shared Experience's dramatisations are when they write their own script with their unique psychological and physical interpretation in mind.

Madame Bovary - Breakfast With Emma
Adapted by Fay Weldon from the novel by Gustave Flaubert
Directed by Polly Teale

Starring: Amanda Drew
With: Maxwell Hutcheon, Joanna Scanlan, Adrian Schiller, Simon Thorp
Designer: Jonathan Fensom
Movement: Liz Ranken
Lighting Designer: Chris Davey
Sound: Howard Davidson
Running time: Two hours twenty five minutes with one interval.
Box Office: 08700 500 511
Booking to 22nd November 2003.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 5th November 2003 Performance at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith London W6(Tube: Hammersmith)
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