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Review of The Yellow Wallpaper at Omnibus Theatre, London

Gemma Yates-Round in The Yellow Wallpaper at Omnibus Theatre, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli
Gemma Yates-Round in The Yellow Wallpaper at Omnibus Theatre, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

The Yellow Wallpaper is a feminist classic by Charlotte Gilman, right? After seeing Another Soup’s ‘interpretation’, I had to reassure myself.

The narrative of Gilman’s tense, an allusive short story is of a woman restrained by her husband and doctor and forced to sleep in a yellow-walled nursery, as she deals with the after-effects of pregnancy. Her ‘illness’ is never defined, suggesting anything between Victorian ‘female hysteria’ to a metaphor for sexuality and the repression of the patriarchy.

Ruby Lawrence’s adaptation doesn’t really examine these issues. There’s nothing wrong with adaptation and reinterpretation- probably welcome for a text written against a wholly different sort of patriarchy- but this production doesn’t really line up with the original classic. At all.

Gemma Yates-Round’s ‘Alice’ is chatty, articulate, self-aware and utterly modern; Charles Warner’s ‘John’ is old-fashioned, traditional and thoroughly Victorian. The coupling of these characters makes both equally unbelievable: it’s not credible that such an intelligent woman as Alice would marry a patriarch such as John, leading us to wonder when the play has been set. There’s no problem with Lawrence’s decision to change the era of the production, but to which era that is, remains to be discovered.

And still, all of this would have been probably fine, if a little reference to the text had been retained. Gilman’s narrative is full of metaphor, feminist imagery and the possibility for a wide variety of queer, race-related interpretations. Here, however, not only are these opportunities ignored, Alice’s struggle with mental health is barely addressed. The main focus is on her struggle to write a fairy story- a nice metaphor for self-expression in a male-dominated world – rather than an examination of the patriarchal classification of hysteria and weakness of women.

Conceptual issues aside, Yates-Round gives a very naturalistic, mature performance as Alice, welcoming the audience into her yellow room. With very casual body language and chatty delivery, there is a sense of honesty and ‘realness here. Maya Trikerioti’s set is excitingly simple – a three-sided yellow room made of thin (yellow) fabric, allowing Warner to press through making shapes and faces, heightening the sense of claustrophobia and oppression. In terms of design and performance, this was a strong production.

Ultimately, however, the issues with the narrative and its historical placing rendered this production confused and out of step with the questions raised by Gilman’s iconic text.

2 gold stars

Review by Thomas Froy

Adapted by Ruby Lawrence and directed by Dave Spencer
After huge success with The Soul of Wittgenstein, which headlined the 96 Festival in February, Dave Spencer and Another Soup return to headline Omnibus Theatre’s Summer Season, Whispers From The Walls, with a new adaptation of the classic Gothic short story, The Yellow Wallpaper.

Alice has not formed the correct bond with her baby. That’s what her doctor and husband say. Isolated from her child and banished to the country for ‘rest’, Alice falls further down the rabbit hole of her own mind. The wallpaper haunts her. But is she really sick, or are there more sinister forces at play?

Based on the cult short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Another Soup returns to Omnibus Theatre, after huge success with The Soul of Wittgenstein, with a haunting cautionary tale for the modern age. Updating the story, Ruby Lawrence shows us the damage that we can do when we do not listen, and when we force our own narratives onto others. The Yellow Wallpaper explores a broad range of subjects including misogyny, gaslighting, mental health, domestic abuse, politics, and post-natal depression.

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