JOHN Nicholson and Javier Marzan, two thirds of anarchic comedic theatre troupe Peepolykus, have turned their attention to Flaubert’s great tragic novel Madame Bovary, but fight as they may against its gravitas, the story shines through.
Directed by Gemma Bodinetz, this co-production by Liverpool Everyman, Northampton Royal and Derngate, Bristol Old Vic and Southampton Nuffield has a cast of four playing more than 20 characters. And in typically iconoclastic style, the story starts with an unapologetic framing device which has our two heroes touring rural France as rat men, or vermin termination executives, as they prefer to be called.
Happening on the rat-infested town where Dr Charles Bovary and his passionately frustrated wife do dwell, they are catapulted into the action.
What this often hilarious, poignant and touching adaptation achieves is an understanding of the power of dreams. Flaubert’s heroine dreams of a better life, fulfilled by clothes and Parisian glamour and ardent men.
Javier the ratcatcher dreams of walking along the Seine in a Paris he knows only by repute. John the ratcatcher is trying to get by, but as Dr Charles he’s contentedly oblivious to his wife’s unhappiness.
With a score that includes VERY LOUD playing of French pop classics like Je Ne Regrette Rien and Je t’aime, Moi non plus, the production manages to capture the knife-edge between high comedy and aching tragedy.
With the ever-watchable Emma Fielding as Madame Bovary (and Emma Fielding) and newcomer Canadian Jonathan Holmes as everyone from Dr Bovary’s mother to the besotted chemist’s assistant, there is never a dull moment, and towards the end there’s a line in this devised script that weighs up comedy and life. You’ll need to see TMToMB to find out which side wins.
It is on at the Nuffield until 19th March, and back in the south at Bristol Old Vic from 26th April to 7th May. If we awarded stars at the FTR, I’d give it five.