Review: The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary

For starters, I’ve not read Madame Bovary – it’s been on various lists (i.e. 30 books to read before you’re 30), but I’ve just not got around to it. When the chance came at my new work to go and see it at the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse with my new colleagues, I thought why not! I barely knew where Liverpool was on the map, but a bit of free theatre is worth an adventure.

Presented by theatre company Peepolykus (people-like-us) and directed by Gemma Bodinetz, they’ve created a production of four actors, an innovative set, and a daring take on this literary classic. The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary is, as you may be able to tell by the title, not exactly a serious reproduction of the French novel. Rather, it is an exploration of theatricality, how far you can push your audience, and how to engage with somewhat tragic circumstances in a way that is memorable for all involved. The book by Gustave Flaubert follows Madame Bovary as she desperately tries to find excitement outside of her disappointing marriage, having felt disillusioned and trapped by her circumstance. I must admit I’m not quite as sympathetic to the heroine as perhaps others will be, but it is nevertheless an interesting tale of consequence and fate.

I don’t really want to give too much away because so much of this show I think is made better by surprise and unconventional techniques, so sadly I’m not going to comment on my favourite scenes – you’ll need to see them for yourselves. All I will mention is the chalkboard styling (Conor Murphy) is ingenious, I never knew magic could be so arousing, and I may now have a thing for Spaniards…

The cast of four consisted of Emma Fielding, John Nicholson, Javier Marzan and Jonathan Holmes – John and Javier being two out of the three main members of Peepolykus. All four held their own on stage, flitting between characters with an ease and comic timing that made me recall my Brechtian research at college. Fundamentally, this was a production that showed wit, a huge amount of creativity, and the ability to jump head first out of the box and into something completely new.

There are various messages regarding the original book that the show aims to project, but personally a lot of them I ignored or disagreed with. However, that does not detract from what Peepolykus have managed to achieve and I’ve no doubt there were many like-minded audience members in the auditorium. I for one just found myself enjoying a thoroughly unique piece of theatre, and came away with sore cheeks and a sense of relief that I’ve finally seen a good show again after all these months.

Their current tour dates take them to May, with more to potentially be announced. If you can, go in with an open mind and enjoy.

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