Helen Millar (Emma) and Jason Eddy (her lovers)
The play revolves around a single conversation between Emma and Charles Bovary, in which the former - an aspirational housewife who is led astray by her longing for romance and belief that she has been born into the wrong class - confesses her misdemeanors to her husband in pursuit of a romantic ideal of redemption. As her story unfolds, memories of past events that have led to her ruin are juxtaposed with the reaction of her loving, uncomprehending husband whose obliviousness is slowly, painfully stripped away.
The small size of the Rosemary Branch makes a perfect setting for the play, uncompromisingly thrusting you into the heart of the domestic drama and leaving no room for withdrawal from the intimate scene. Millar plays Emma very well, conveying her aspirations and desires with desperate vitality and infusing her fanciful nature with a sense of conviction that cannot fail to provoke sympathy. By contrast, James Burton plays the simple, baffled Charles with an understated pathos and splash of humour that make him a perfect foil to his dramatic wife.
The staging is cleverly done, with secondary characters emerging from fireplaces, trunks and staircases to demonstrate how Emma’s memories intrude and shatter the calm of her house. The ball scene in particular, with characters slowly whirling around the breakfast furniture in their finery, perfectly highlights the difference between Emma's world and the upper class, exposing her tragic folly and the futility of her dreams.
Overall this is an accomplished production with easily identifiable characterisations that cannot fail to strike a chord. Sadly, however, it is only at the Rosemary Branch until 3rd November, after which it goes on tour. It's the kind of play that stays with you long after you see it and, if you can get down there, you'll be glad you didn't skip breakfast.
Tickets are £12 / £10 (conc.) and available from The Rosemary Branch Theatre, 2 Shepperton Road, London, N1 3DT. Tel: 020 7704 6665
Performances are at 7.30pm on 1st, 2nd & 3rd November, after which the production goes on tour.