Hoylake director’s comic take on tragic heroine Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary rehearsals
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The latest stage production by Hoylake-based director Gemma Bodinetz is to open at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre next month.

“The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary!” is a comic but thoughtful take on Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 debut novel and literary masterpiece.

Gemma, the artistic director of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Theatres, is currently rehearsing the play with a cast centred on the two-man theatre company Peepolykus (pronounced People Like Us), who she last directed in the Playhouse Christmas show No Wise Men in 2010.

Said Gemma: “Peepolykus are a fabulous company.  We have set ourselves the challenge of bringing Madame Bovary to life with a cast of four.

John Nicholson, Javier Marzan & Emma Fielding in_Madame Bovary rehearsals PIC: Brian Roberts.
John Nicholson, Javier Marzan & Emma Fielding in Madame Bovary rehearsals  PICTURE: Brian Roberts

“I hope it is hilarious but it is a very serious novel about a woman who in 1850s France marries the wrong man and ends up having lots of affairs.

“In the novel, Madame Bovary commits suicide by taking arsenic.  But in our version Peepolykus play two rat catchers who come to town and buy up all the arsenic so that when she goes to the pharmacy to buy the arsenic to kill herself there is none there.

“She runs to them to try and get the arsenic and they try to talk her out of killing herself. They ask ‘Well why would a beautiful woman like you want to commit suicide?’ and then we go back through her story.”

If it sounds like a slightly grim tale, the fact that the publicity tag for the play describes the novel as being “lovingly derailed” by Peepolykus hints at the fun to be had.

Hoylake-based Gemma Bodinetz, directing The Tragedy of Madame Bovary!
Hoylake-based Gemma Bodinetz, directing The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary!

Gemma explained that for all the controversy the original novel caused – it was banned for a time in France – it did not really give its tragic heroine a voice.

“Although this is a very funny version of it, part of what makes it funny is that we are hoping that for the first time she is actually understood.”

Gemma likens Madame Bovary’s fate to other 19th century heroines like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, who seemed to be forced to commit suicide either because they had a sexual appetite or a mental illness.

“The play asks, ‘Well really, is that all we can offer women if they take that path?’ So I hope we do her justice as well as making people laugh.

Emma Fielding and Javier Marzan in Madame Bovary rehearsal PICTURE: Brian Roberts
Emma Fielding and Javier Marzan in Madame Bovary rehearsal PICTURE: Brian Roberts

“Peepolykus are a very funny company and of course their attempt to put on Madame Bovary’s story is flawed and crazy, but through it they are trying to do justice to this woman’s voice.”

Previews begin at the Everyman next Friday, February 5, and the production is set to open on Wednesday February 10 and run until February 27. The co-production will then go to Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, the Bristol Old Vic and Royal and Derngate, Northampton.

Faces of West Wirral: Gemma Bodinetz on her love affair with Hoylake.

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