What to expect from Bea Roberts’ modern day update of Flaubert’s classic novel
On the technical level, it is very impressive.
It’s a clever and understandable adaptation. After all, modern readers remain fascinated by and identify with Flaubert’s Emma and her dreams of a life less ordinary – in today’s celebrity-obsessed, endlessly photoshopped world, it is hardly a surprise that the character and story continues to resonate. Roberts has clearly taken her inspiration from modern day cyber culture in which we’re bombarded with unrealistic images and impossible expectations, giving us the illusion of human connections whilst making us feel lonelier than ever. As such, Roberts’ Emma is deprived of a voice, with videos, projected images and synchronised onscreen dialogue used to tell the story. Using this technical wizardry, Roberts manages to recreate the multiple fictional worlds that we invent on the internet, from her illicit online messages to shopping sites filled with models she can only dream of being.
On the technical level, it is very impressive and an interesting insight into imaginative ways of using different types of projection as a storytelling device. But the nature of the performance is such that the audience is kept at arm’s length, and thus never fully engages or empathises with Emma. We only ever view her through a screen, and we’re aware that it’s never the real Emma we see. One has to give Roberts’ creativity some credit, but, unfortunately, the technical innovation isn’t a satisfactory substitute for proper engagement with Flaubert’s sad and deluded heroine.