The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert, lovingly derailed by John Nicholson 23 Apr 2024 - 16 May 2024

A Minack Theatre and Ha Hum Ah production

Emma Bovary is bored. She’s bored with her boring doctor husband, bored with her boring provincial village and bored with her role as a dutiful wife in (boring) nineteenth-century France. But Emma reads novels. Lots of novels. And in novels, life is much more fun… Now, four actors battle hilarious mishaps and misbehaving props to tell the (massively) tragic story of Madame Bovary.

Laugh and cry in equal measure as Emma Bovary chooses the wrong husband. Lose yourself in mesmeric love scenes featuring a stupendous collection of devastatingly handsome men. Question the impotence of women in a patriarchal, Victorian society (if you want). There will be vermin, visual absurdity, wild animals and a nun.

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was published in 1856, prosecuted for obscenity and hailed as the greatest novel ever written. 

Flaubert’s complex novel is given a refreshing shake up in this irreverent, irrepressible and irresistible play.

Review by Jenni Balow


There is no other way to put this  - Madame Bovary has read too many romantic novels, and now she's obsessed by sex, as a way out of a fairly routine life with a country doctor.

Given that the author is French, and the novel caused a scandal when it was published in 1856, with Flaubert defending an accusation of obscenity in court, you will understand that the content is 'adult'.

Now that you know what to expect, don't miss it, whatever you do!

This is a brilliant, very, very funny production, with a stellar cast of four playing multiple roles, and I reckon it will be one of the best of the season.Tickets are available until the end of the run on Friday April 14.

The pre-show publicity describes how John Nicholson has derailed the novel, giving it a good shake-up, making it an "irreverent, irrepressible, irresistible play" - I could not put it better.

The Minack with Ha Hum Ah Productions have linked to bring us the gorgeous Geordie, Georgia Nicholson, do you remember her in Hetty Feather last year, Ben Kernow, one of our best, Darren Seed who starred in another hit last season, Superstition Mountain, and Stephen Cavanagh, who also wowed in Stones In His Pockets.

Well, it's a good start, and with direction by Kirstie Davis, a mesmerising 'magic' seduction, the French shutters and dashing costumes faultlessly designed by Marion Harrison with Yasmin Baird, striking movement and choreography by Grace Murdoch, with a wonderful champagne and gateau 'ballet', music and sound by Dan Bottomley, with lighting by Simon Hutchings, you have it all.

Then there is the passion, lots of it, and a fair degree of heartbreak that will inevitably bring tears to your eyes, not just for the breathless Emma Bovary, but for one of her lovers, at least initially, and certainly for the doctor, bullied at school, trying his best to make people better - and totally in awe of the five different types of plough on display at the Yonville agricultural fair, where his wife is being openly seduced.

Flaubert was soon hailed as the writer of one of the greatest novels ever, aided and abetted by its notoriety, after his successful appearance in court, and there is a complexity and understanding of the human condition that holds the story, with its inevitably tragic ending, realistically together.

Early on, Emma declares that she wants to stand "in the heart of a storm" and she succeeds pretty much all the way through the play. The clock is ticking loudly and inexorably on stage, and Piaf's "no regrets" that come to mean the reverse, give us an early warning, unheeded by the remarkable Georgia, giving one of the performances of her life.

We share in the naughtiness, the audacity of the sex and seductions that are funny and fun, the smug, smirking asides, the props including the 'baby bump' black apron, so symbolic alongside the Adam and Eve box of glossy red apples, all a delight.

It doesn't come better than this.

Review by Jane Pugh

The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary May 7 2024

Adapted for the stage by John Nicholson from the 19th century French novel by Gustave Flaubert and directed by Kirstie Davies.

Oh Emma, you foolish young woman! To think sex and shopping is the answer to your dull French, mid 19th century provincial life.  This is the tragedy and pathos of Madame Bovary, that John Nicholson's adaptation brings to the stage. She's instinctive and romantic, impulsive and lusty – all of which gets her into a whole heap of trouble but, on the other hand, she has a lot of fun along the way.

Fun is at the very heart of this production. With gorgeous acting from the cast but first, hats off Georgia Nicholson and her joyous, vibrant, comedic, energized performance in the title role. Meanwhile, Darren Seed's performance as the hapless Doctor Bovary is stacked with pathos where we at once find him both endearing and maddening, Ben Kernow plays both of Emma Bovary's lovers wickedly and playfully, softly and passionately, and Stephen Cavanagh morphs from character to the next seamlessly. At one point, I thought, 'Is that the same actor?' How's that for versatility?

There's a lot of story to get through and this director, Kirstie Davies, attacks with gusto. As the play accelerates towards its resolution, the plotting feels rushed and I wonder if both the writer and director could've summarised the narrative instead of dramatising everything.

To be honest, I read the novel years ago and found myself urging our heroine to buck up, she does mope about a lot, but in this rendition, she's so alive and so is the adaptation. The dialogue is deftly written and delicious to boot. Conversely, a flavour of tragedy or of sad reflection would add to the emotional journeys all the characters embark upon, it was a little emotionally one note.

At the interval, I chatted with audience members, all of whom were first-time Minack visitors. They agreed it was just the right type of play to enjoy on a sunny afternoon, even if it was interrupted by the RAF helicopter swinging by, a joyous moment where are rat catcher characters waved at the pilot and then returned to their story. The Rat Catchers were an interesting device, giving Emma someone to share her experiences with. They also contrasted all the other characters with strong effect. Their lives, simple, honest, and harsh, a powerful counter to the complicated machinations of the middle classes.

Whilst the Minack stage was curiously only half used, clever costumes and a neat, simple set situated the play in time and place. The music mix was creative and added to the fun, 'Windmills of Your Mind,' what a great idea!

I echo, therefore, the thoughts from the audience members I chatted with, that whilst this interpretation might lack emotional range, it is very simply, great fun. After the show, as you climb the steep steps of the Minack, you might be breathless, but you'll have a smile on your face.