Breakfast With Emma, by Fay Weldon, is based on the novel Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert, and the play's narrative structure is centred round the breakfast table of Emma and Charles Bovary, on a single morning, presumably in the mid-19th Century.
Emma is initially clearly an unhappy woman, restless and trapped in a 'small dull dusty village in a flat landscape' and irritated by her 'old stick' of a husband whose oafish behaviour, thoughtless disregard for his wife, and lack of passion become increasingly apparent.
But there is much more to her unease than that, as her infidelities (all played with oily charisma by Jason Eddy) and spendthrift nature in the grip of her passions threaten to bring her to suicide.
Helen Millar is well cast as Emma, inhabiting the role, and captures her delusion sensitively, while James Burton plays the difficult part of Charles Bovary intelligently, staying just on the pitiable side of unpleasant, a struggling doctor who understands bodies, 'but not hearts or minds.'
While Helen Tennison's direction and Sally Ferguson's lighting lend the production an atmosphere that is at times haunting, and at others dreamlike, it is James Perkins' set design that is a real triumph. Emma's unravelling is told through a series of flashbacks, and characters are spirited in and out of the room from the unlikeliest of places –including a trunk, a dresser, and a fireplace. The tableaus that result – in particular a country fair, a ball and a memorable night in Paris – are evoked with humour, invention and excellent movement.
There were some technical issues on the night, however, which included a late start and a long interval, the start of which needed to be announced from the audience by a member of the crew while the actors remained, somewhat awkwardly it seemed, on stage.
Nevertheless, it was a strong production – well acted, impressively told, and at times genuinely moving.
19 Nov 10