By Taylor Kendal
What does one do when they are confined to the same four walls day in and day out, with little but their own mind for company? This is the question that our protagonist (Annie Thorold) faces on a daily basis.
The audience learns through a pre-recorded narration, that the woman is unwell, put on ‘rest care’ by her physician husband for her ‘nervous condition ‘following the birth of their child, whom she is unable to be with. It becomes clear; that the woman suffers from what is now known as Post Partum Depression, though in the late 19th century, it was considered nothing more than an illness that existed only in the woman’s mind. Still, the family has taken leave to a long untenanted home, where she is all but banished to spend her days in the same room; an old nursery at the top of the house that is covered in the most horrific yellow wallpaper.
As the days pass, the woman uses what strength and effort she has to write down her thoughts, something she has been forbidden to do in her condition, and shares them with the audience through the narration. She tells of her hatred for the wallpaper; the colour, the smell, and how it rips and tears in the most odd yet fascinating ways. And yet, she can’t help think of it. What else is she to do when there is very little else for her to focus on?
Laurence Strangio’s adaption of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s text is a subtle yet intricate display of a woman slowly slipping into madness, caused in advertently by her suffering of an illness that was shrugged off by her husband. Though we do not see the man, his condescending nature is evident, and would be described in today’s times as ‘mansplaining’.
The use of a prerecorded narration for our character shows the audience the inner workings of her mind, yet can seem to be a little disconnected with the physical theatre on stage. There are times where it lacks in capturing the emotional pull of a woman slipping into madness in her own mind, by being too matter of fact, and lacking the anger and fury of a woman put in this position. Though it overlaps with being spoken live on stage in some areas, there are some parts of the dialogue that could be construed better if spoken in the moment.
Annie Thorold’s performance is captivating in silence as she shows through movement and expression the descent of the woman as she envisions the yellow wallpaper in such detail, the audience does not need to see it in reality, they can feel it. The symbolism of the performance is evident throughout, especially with the gradual removal of the woman’s clothes to reveal a plain yellow dress; finalizing her merging with the wallpaper as one by the story’s end.
Though short in performance, this adaption of the gothic classic conveys the message of the tale in a way that those familiar with the text can appreciate, and those who may not quite grasp the context at the time, can take away to mull over with a new understanding and respect.
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