The Yellow Wallpaper

Mon 13th – Sat 25th August 2012

reviews

Jessica Reid

at 23:08 on 15th Aug 2012

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The Yellow Wallpaper is a dramatisation of a short story I have read but never understood the appeal of. Beds’ production of it brings it to life and makes it far more engaging than I would ever have imagined possible. The play flickers between the present and the past, as two contemporary brothers read from an old diary they find in a house one of them has just bought. As they (Nathan Moore and Roddy Shaw) read from the diary, it comes to life before our eyes. This production seems to have many parallels with the recent ‘theatrical event of the decade’, Gatz, although mercifully is about five hours shorter.

The play is exceptionally polished and well-rehearsed. It does seem almost too smooth at the very start when the diary is first discovered; the transition into the dramatised storytelling is overly swift. Apart from this slightly unbelievable moment, the show is very gripping, especially the moments when they are literally reading the story and we see it acted out by the silent woman (Abigail Gregory) who manages to be highly expressive – epitomising the concept that good acting is about reacting - and the pompous John (Christopher Davies). Davies is brilliant as John, his every movement heightening the sense of the woman being stifled by her controlling and deluded husband. It is also a clever decision aesthetically to have him wear a yellow shirt, thus aligning him with the titular yellow wallpaper, of which she is so tortured by.

Shaw is a far better reader than Moore, who happens to stumble over words. Perhaps this is supposed to represent his character’s strong emotional connection to the woman, but his narration is much less compelling than when Moore reads in his clear, detached manner. Amy Want is creepy as the woman in the wallpaper. She is genuinely quite alarming.

The one element of the show I am undecided about is the frequent discussions between the brothers about the treatment of the woman’s insanity and the narrative of the diary. It is fairly interesting but does elongate the show somewhat unnecessarily and detracts from the main tale of the woman’s spiral into madness. I also think that keeping the exact phrasing of “in the Fall” is peculiar considering that the rest of the play has been Anglicised.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a good production and far more exhilarating than I anticipated.

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Pia Dhaliwal

at 23:57 on 15th Aug 2012

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Entering the theatre where Bangor University drama society BEDS’ production of 'The Yellow Wallpaper' takes place, things seem to be off to a promising visual start. The stage, aisle and ground beneath the front few rows of seats are littered with strips of the titular material, with larger pieces pinned haphazardly to the backdrop. However, while a lot of thought appears to have been put into this initial (and as we discover, unchanging) stage setting, the rest of the show doesn’t seem to rely enough on visual accompaniment to the supplement the story – resulting in a less than spectacular overall experience.

'The Yellow Wallpaper' is based on a short story of the same name by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It is set in the Victorian era and is told through multiple journal entries by a young woman suffering from what appears to be some sort of psychosis – potentially post-natal depression, although this is never confirmed. Her doctor husband therefore rents a house in the country for her recuperation, and confines her to a room at the very top of the house – one with bars on the windows, a gate at the top of the stairs, and some rather unsightly yellow wallpaper. The woman eventually gets more and more obsessed with this wallpaper as she descends further into psychosis.

BEDS have therefore set themselves quite a task in attempting to convey this gradual psychological change, and to some extent they have succeeded. One of the methods employed to make the story more accessible is the introduction of two new characters as a framing device – the play starts off with Peter (Nathan Moore) and Steve (Roddy Shaw) surveying Peter’s newly-bought fixer-upper, where they find the woman’s diary. They each take turns reading out entries from the diary, and as they do so the characters contained therein come to life around them, acting out the story as it is told. There are staging directions that work well here – primarily the fact that the unnamed lead character (Abigail Gregory) never speaks for herself, even during exchanges with her husband John (Christopher Davies). This does serve to strengthen the impression of her isolation and the control to which she is habitually subjected. The mysterious female she eventually begins to ‘see’ within the wallpaper is hauntingly brought to life by Amy Want (who also plays Jenny) crawling around the stage. And extra touches like the yellow shade of John’s shirt also demonstrate an attention to detail on the part of the directors.

Unfortunately, there were still a number of adaptive issues that did not seem to contribute to the story. Although both Moore and Shaw alternated between reading from the diary, the individual extracts were far too lengthy, leaving whoever wasn’t reading with nothing to do for long periods of time. Sometimes, given the length of each reading, the narration felt a little flat - and it wasn’t always complemented well by the acting, particularly during the more descriptive bits about the rest of the house or the surrounding countryside. As these portions were unaccompanied by any sort of sound or light effects, it probably would have been better to cut them altogether. It also felt like more could have been done to play up the woman’s increasing psychosis, again through more inventive use of technical effects or props. Perhaps there could have been some more obvious difference between her perception of the yellow wallpaper and everyone else’s. Instead, the increasing conflict between the woman and her husband was explored through the characters of Peter and Steve, as they argued about the couple’s respective points of view in between reading from the diary. This felt a bit too much like they were just explaining things directly to the audience. And given the decision to have the newer characters and the characters from the diary occupy the stage concurrently, perhaps some greater contrast could have been drawn between their costumes, to make things more visually interesting.

Don’t get me wrong – this is by no means a bad show. The acting, staging and direction are all decent; however there is nonetheless the unshakeable sense that the solid foundations upon which the show undoubtedly rests could have been built on a lot more than they have been. There is definitely a lot of potential here, but at times it did feel like I was watching a dramatic reading rather than a story adapted for the stage. So although The Yellow Wallpaper is certainly a commendable effort on the part of BEDS, it could definitely use a little more ‘show’ and a little less ‘tell’.

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