Madame Bovary - Breakfast With Emma
Oxford Playhouse, 26.09-04.10.03

Shared Experience is well known for taking classic texts and making them into highly physical and innovative theatre. Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" scandalised French bourgeois society of the time with its shocking depiction of an adulteress, Emma Bovary, and her lascivious liaisons. The 19th-century press denounced both the book and its author as corrupting influences. History has exonerated Flaubert and exposed the hypocrisy of a society that would deny the existence of such women.

Why should we be interested in this piece of theatre? Husbands and wives are often depicted in theatre as having extra-marital affairs; it's one of the great themes of literature. Charles (a wonderfully controlled performance from Adrian Schiller) describes his wife as having "a little passion". An argument over breakfast about milk becomes a remarkable deconstruction of their marriage. Emma (the glorious Amanda Drew) has not only ruined her own reputation but destroyed that of her husband in her ruthless bid for wealth and recognition. On the surface, Flaubert provides a melodramatic morality tale. Slyly, underneath it all, he is laughing. Through his voyeuristic tale, with each salacious detail recounted, he is wilfully subversive as he points the finger not only at the guilty but also at those who would dare to judge.

Shared Experience gracefully balances artistic daring alongside faithfulness to the text. The play contains one of the hottest sex scenes I've seen where no clothes are removed and the female is narrating every detail in a detached fashion. This production matches simplicity with incredible theatrical daring to create an interesting and engaging piece of theatre.

Ben Whitehouse, 26.09.03

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