Madame Bovary: Breakfast With Emma

MAGGIE BRIDGE thinks this might improve with age.

maggie bridge Nailya Shamgunova Octavia Sheepshanks

Pembroke New Cellars, 9.30pm, Tue 23rd – Sat 27th Oct, £5/£6

Dir. Nailya Shamgunova

“It was fine.” These were my companion’s first words as we left the theatre, and they were right. This production of Fay Weldon’s engaging and witty adaptation of ‘Madame Bovary’ is sound, but just felt a little lacklustre.

The performance definitely had its merits. The decision to have an all-female cast was a brave one, and Rebecca Hare rose to the challenge of playing Charles Bovary with panache. Her portrayal of a patronising and uninspiring husband (along with a very well decked-out stage) helped create an appropriately cloying sense of domesticity, allowing the audience to relate better to Emma Bovary’s frustrations. What’s more, her delivery of, “But, I’m a man!” was sufficiently self-aware to earn a few deserved laughs.

Octavia Sheepshanks should also be commended, and not just for her adept management of numerous costume changes. Though her Lhereux and Rodolph (if both appropriately sleazy) felt like the same caricature being played out twice, there was, for the most part, a pleasing variety across her roles.

Overall, though, delivery wasn’t quite as slick as it should have been. What I assume were opening night nerves saw both Andrea Tudose (Emma) and Hare occasionally stumble over their lines, which was a shame. Dialogue became slightly stilted at crucial intervals, sapping the tense exchanges between husband and wife of a credibility that was otherwise well-maintained.

The flashbacks that punctuate the play were done successfully and without feeling forced. In fact, the actors actually delivered some of their strongest performances during these scenes. Emma’s reminiscing about her one charming evening at a ball provided of the most moving moments, and a scene at the opera managed to be both comic and poignant. One small gripe though – while voice-overs and background music were often used to good effect, the sex scene simulated via audio had everyone cringing.

This was a pleasant, but not gripping, evening. This show definitely has promise and I have a feeling that it may improve as the run continues. Tonight though, it fell a little flat.