Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper is an unsettling Gothic tale about a woman driven into madness by the distinguished yellow wallpaper which plasters the attic room she is confined to as a ‘rest cure’. Themes questioning ‘female hysteria’ and representations of women also emerge in this story, particularly through the protagonist’s relationship with her husband John, and her domestic life. In Dram Viver’s adaptation of the story, transported to the 1950s, this aspect of the tale is the focus, making it not only a moving piece of theatre but one that is appealing and interrogative to a modern audience.
A highly engaging, stimulating and well-devised piece of theatre.
Obviously the creation of this single setting is crucial and the production delivers in its visuals: three flats with a distorted yellow pattern, kaleidoscopic but also, shrewdly, reminiscent of the Rorschach test, are used as the backdrop and to initially conceal four actresses who act as a Greek chorus and the figure(s) lurking beneath the wallpaper. The chorus wear clothing and fitted masks also printed with this pattern, increasing the sense of claustrophobia.
The characterisation of the protagonist is superb: she is very convincing in developing the character to a very powerful, heart-rending ending. This is paralleled in her costume change from a demure and kempt look - in a light blue skirt with an embellished brooch - to an all-white dress stained with yellow and dishevelled hair. Indeed, her appearance in these early scenes, along with the conversations between her and her husband John, prompt the audience to question the initial veracity of her madness; to a modern audience it could be interpreted as a case of gaslighting and domestic abuse.
The Greek chorus works effectively for this piece, narrating passages from the text, visualising the psychological turmoil of the protagonist and, of course, representing the women who she believes haunt her from inside the wallpaper. The choreography is well devised, and the use of canon and layered singing was mostly valuable. However, there were moments when the singing dragged on, particularly when used in scene changes, which dropped the energy and engagement of the piece. While the concept of a chorus works well for the text, there were a few times when I expected their contribution to build the intensity of the scene and it did not. However, an exciting and suitable climax was achieved in the penultimate scene.
The Yellow Wallpaper is a great piece of literature which the company brought to life maturely and thoroughly. I do recommend this as it is highly engaging, stimulating and a well-devised piece of theatre.