Skip to main content

Review of Madame Bovary by Masque Theatre at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Rosanna Lowe's version of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary was originally commissioned by Simon Godwin for the Northampton Royal Theatre, so it perhaps seems apt, that it returns to a stage of the same town, in this new wacky interpretation from Masque Theatre.

Masque's publicity for the show, describes it as a "madcap tragedy", and for those more familiar with Flaubert's novel you shall perhaps be a little surprised by the anarchic version created here. This is tragedy played for full-on slapstick effect, and while at times it might seem overwhelming in its intensity, the ride we are taken on is a delight.

Directed by Tamsyn Payne and Alex Rex and a team of talented creatives, Madame Bovary's props and design are every bit as important as the talented cast wielding them. For an amateur production, the attention to detail is nothing short of staggering. Gloriously created books filled with delights, puppet dogs and children, mini nuns, and little baskets of apples, are among many of the props that make this show more than the sum of its performers.

However, this show also revels of course in the skills of the four (and a sneaky fifth, with Alex Rex appearing in a few roles) actors, headed by Julia Langley as Madame Bovary. Whenever Langley is on stage, you always feel that the audience is in for a treat, and as Emma Bovary, here there is no difference. Revelling in the depth and complexity of the character, made more so in a comic version, Langley brings the mischief and naughtiness of the character to life. However, also well prepared for the turn of events at the end, because even as a wacky version of the story, this does not shy from the power of its tragic end, and Langley as ever has the skill to take the craziness down a significant notch, to bring Emma Bovary back to the complete Flaubert original in those dying embers of the play.

While Langley has the single role of Emma, the remainder of the cast in this production bring to life numerous characters from the original. A newcomer to Masque, Lou Chawner may well concentrate his performance on the vital role of Charles Bovary, which he brings to life in a surprisingly subtle way. However, in Madame Bovary, his perhaps best role is that of the oily Lheureux though, apart from looking the part, he captures the character very well. Chawner also, like a professional, handles the issue of a broken foot, performing the play entirely on crutches.

Another newcomer to Masque is Mairead Kearins, who also has a collection of random characters, and more especially the first of two performers which are gender switched, as the bulk of Kearins characters are male. So, not to put my foot in it too much, it has to be said that Keirins creates the roles well, perhaps the best of which is that of Leon.

Also taking on the baton of being rather manly, is the brilliant Beverly Webster. She creates each of the characters with her usual ease and manages to act beyond that significant moustache, to make Rodolphe her best character. There is no question that the energetic, and brilliantly created scene of her romping with Madame Bovary in all manner of positions is the best of the play.

Technically, this is a very successful affair. There are more than a few neat ideas dotted around, with a lovely little twinkling sky, cascading notes from above cleverly rigged, and a simple, but well created fireworks display. There is clearly more than a little blood, sweat and tears gone into this production, and every moment of that shows on the stage.

I am loath to say that at times Madame Bovary is simply too creative, as that is a crazy thing to say, but possibly one of the few criticisms I can level at it, is that is occasionally too busy, and you often feel you are missing out on some other ingenious idead. Once you get on the wavelength of the show, however, which probably takes a few minutes, Madame Bovary is tremendously entertaining and benefits from a lively, sprightly (yes, even on crutches) cast, with two particularly strong performances from Langley and Webster. Despite all the chaos throughout, it all ends as it should from this tale, with a truly poignant scene, excellently created. A romp of a night at the theatre.

Performance reviewed: Tuesday 10th April 2018 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton.

Madame Bovary runs until Saturday 14th April 2018 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton.

Details of Masque can be found at http://www.masquetheatre.co.uk/


Photos: Joe Brown

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Disney's High School Musical by NMTC Youth Society at the Cripps Hall Theatre, Northampton

As a regular theatre-goer, and indeed reviewer, I have learnt over the years that not all theatre is really for everybody. It's pretty obvious a statement really, but with reviewers, unlike regular theatregoers, you end up by default attending shows you might not dream of going to see as a normal customer. Maybe High School Musical is one pretty close to the top of the list I would only see on "official reviewing duty", as it's not really for a 40-year odd person. However, beyond that, the Northampton Musical Theatre Company Youth Society has come up with a really pretty impressive production of Disney's classic teen musical.

This is a very dramatic departure from the inaugural production of the Youth Theatre in 2018, Les Misérables (much more my thing), however, perhaps unsurprisingly it is better suited to the performers here. Their enthusiasm is even more evident to that previous production. Here, unlike the horrors of revolution-torn France, they can have fu…

Review of The Full Monty at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

The 1997 film The Full Monty is one of the best regarded of relatively recent British films, due to it being both a warm and emotionally strong tale, solid comedy and a wealth of acting talent, and it's no surprise that its very theme has spawned an immensely successful touring stage version. It literally overflows with the opportunity to be performed in front of a, probably mostly female, audience, well, the final scene does, in any case. However, what of the rest, and how about for a male audience member? So to speak. Well, it was time to find out.

The first thing that is apparent from The Full Monty stage show, is how faithful this is to the film. Much of the show is what you have seen if you have seen the film, but translated cleverly to the stage, it feels just that little more real and gritty as well. It opens with a nicely staged scene of darkness and flashes of a torch as Gaz (Gary Lucy), his son Nathan (Fraser Kelly) and Dave (Kai Owen) break into their former factory wo…

Review of The Bodyguard at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

The 1992 film The Bodyguard starring Kevin Costner and the acting debut for singing megastar Whitney Houston, was a slightly average romantic thriller, which is really mostly remembered for its musical turns from Houston, so, it is perhaps surprising that it took a whole twenty years to make it's transition to the stage as a musical version. Premiering in London in December 2012, ten months after Houston's tragic death, the show has had great success around the world, and with this, it's second UK tour, has a recognisable face in the star role, of Alexandra Burke, former X-Factor winner (curiously not mentioned in her programme biog).
The Bodyguard follows the story of former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard Frank Farmer (Benoît Maréchal) who is hired to protect multi-award-winning music star Rachel Marron, following her receiving threats from a stalker.
It's clear from the bold opening performance that Alexandra Burke as Marron is not looking to imitate Houston in…