Review: The Yellow Wallpaper
Image: Omnibus Theatre
Gemma Yates-Round - Alice
Charles Warner - Not-Alice
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?
Starting off with the very gentlest of simmers, this play by Ruby Lawrence notches up the temperature through its 1 hour cooking time to something that culinary aficionados will recognise as a rolling boil.
So much so that Gemma Yates-Round, who plays the central character of Alice, has to wait a few moments to catch her breath in order to find composure for the curtain calls.
Though this is a two-hander in terms of the number of actors who deliver it, the play is actually all about Alice.
Gemma Yates-Round as Alice - photo by Lidia Crisafulli
The other characters who appear in this unnerving story - for example her doctor, husband and housekeeper are played by Charles Warner, who assumes the suitably descriptive character title of 'Not-Alice'.
Based on the short story of the same title by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (first published in 1892) this is a strange piece because we're never really certain - or, to put it more truthfully, I'm not certain - whether it is hovering on the margins of the horror genre, or simply a disturbing, tragic play about a woman's mental breakdown.
It starts off on a very slow fuse with almost nothing happening in the opening minute or two - and in a 60 minute play, that's quite a long time.
We first meet Alice while she's waiting to see her rather stiff, male, straight-laced doctor.
Alice is a little over half-way through her pregnancy.
After this initial story-setting scene, events move on and the pace picks up - and we next find Alice after she has given birth but is coping uneasily with motherhood.
She's separated from her child and prescribed rest by her doctor, and her domineering husband tries to enforce it rigorously - she's banned from writing and her reading matter is considered highly inappropriate.
Instead of therapy, she's actually given nothing to do at all, which leads to a lonely and perturbing decline into mental crisis.
Gemma Yates-Round and Charles Warner - photo by Lidia Crisafulli
Director Dave Spencer has an obvious eye for the unusual.
His last outing at Omnibus Theatre saw him presenting Ron Elisha's intriguing The Soul of Wittgenstein - a story about a philosopher employed as a hospital porter in the grim days of World War II.
This latest work from theatre company Another Soup is an unusual take on the treatment of mental illness and the way a male-dominated society treats and manipulates women.
Isolation figures prominently in both the story and Mayou Trikerioti's set that comprises a simple box-like room that stands apart in the middle of the acting area - almost like a doll's house sitting on a table.
Though the walls are indeed covered in yellow wallpaper, the fabric neatly stretches as hands of an unknown person (or presence) press in from the exterior and mood changes are indicated with effective blue lighting.
A neatly-designed soundscape adds to the unsettling atmosphere - one of the features (along with the groping hands) that lends a horror-like feel to the drama.
Though Mr Spencer handles this discomfiting story with the meticulous attention to detail that we've come to expect from his work, the evening belongs to Ms Yates-Round who builds her role from calm normality in the initial stages to a frantic denouement where a hapless Mr Warner gets unceremoniously dragged round the stage.
Highly watchable and thought-provoking stuff.
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ActDrop listing for Omnibus Theatre
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