Review: The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary at Everyman

The Everyman continues to deliver theatre audiences the unexpected in this latest offering in partnership with Peepolykus. This time the reinvigorated Hope Street venue is treating us to a classic of 19th Century French literature through the prism of anarchic, slapstick comedy theatrics. It’s an idea that in lesser hands could be as tragic as the life of Madame Bovary herself but with this four-person energy ball it really works.

Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Peepolykus production of The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! Directed by Gemma Bodinetz. Cast: Emma Fielding, John Nicholson, Javier Marzan, Jonathan Holmes

In this production, Peepolykus don’t so much break the forth wall of theatre but rather dance all over it for two glorious hours while subtly slipping in feminist messages, expert clowning and never compromising the essence of Gustave Flaubert’s debut novel. From an amusing self-confessed ‘framing device’ start, through one character’s insistence on re-enacting a sex scene after the interval to a hilariously mis-queued ending, The Massive Tragedy Of Madame Bovary is a surprisingly hilarious romp throughout.

Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Peepolykus production of The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! Directed by Gemma Bodinetz. Cast: Emma Fielding, John Nicholson, Javier Marzan, Jonathan Holmes

A tale of one woman’s struggle to find any joy in a her married life while embarking on equally unfulfilling affairs until considering suicide does not sound like typically fertile comedic grounds. However, through stepping out of the heavy drama to discuss (with amusing difficulty) the themes of the novel, pointing to the limitations of a minimalist set and tiny cast, Peepolykus somehow succeed in producing a genuinely funny play.

There are points at the start where there is a danger of the production slipping into panto territory but the expertise of performers such as Javier Marzan’s Spanish lothario’s expert comic timing and the title character’s effortless ability to return to the pathos of Flaubert’s original keeps the production from descending into wackiness. The skill of balancing thigh-slapping laughs with genuinely tender moments is really something to admire here.

Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Peepolykus production of The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! Directed by Gemma Bodinetz. Cast: Emma Fielding, John Nicholson, Javier Marzan, Jonathan Holmes

A straw poll at the start showed that less than half of the attendees had read the original novel but it quickly became clear that this didn’t matter as the four cast members unpicked the story as they went along. This ‘loving derailment’ of a classic proves very effective in dealing with the themes Flaubert introduced to readers in a blaze of controversy all those years ago. Madame Bovary’s search for a meaningful existence and excitement amongst the 19th Century patriarchy of French society is put across by actor Emma Fielder perfectly as she steps in and out of character throughout the play without it ever feeling overtly contrived.

Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Peepolykus production of The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! Directed by Gemma Bodinetz. Cast: Emma Fielding, John Nicholson, Javier Marzan, Jonathan Holmes

The Massive Tragedy Of Madame Bovary is alive with witty dialogue, surreal humour and inventive direction. Fans of clowning, comedy, classic literature and silliness should all get along to the Everyman Theatre.

The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary runs at the Everyman, Liverpool until February 27th. Get your tickets here from the Everyman website.

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