Tuesday, 15 March 2005

The Yellow Wallpaper, from Charlotte Gilman Perkins, March 15, 2005

The Yellow Wallpaper  by Charlotte Gilman Perkins 
Adapted by Anita Hegh and Peter Evans
Where and When: Store Room, March 15 to April 3, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The confined, empty black space of The Store Room echoes the claustrophobic feelings of The Yellow Wallpaper.

Anita Hegh portrays a woman in an escalating psychological crisis. She is virtually incarcerated in an upstairs nursery in a crumbling country house.

Her isolation from friends, society and her beloved writing, enforced by her loving husband, is intended to speed her recovery but, instead, triggers a terrifying fall into delusion and paranoia.

Director, Peter Evans, with Hegh, adapted this electrically charged performance from Charlotte Gilman Perkins' 1892 novella of the same name.

Evans and Hegh use cunningly simple theatrical devices to create the layers of the story.

Hegh, dressed in a battered bridal gown, tells the woman's tale in the first person in a direct address to the audience. Her controlled narration is punctuated by random gasps that highlight the woman's rising panic and barely masked hysteria.

The woman enters and re-enters through the doorway as if she is re-enacting a contrived or rehearsed version of herself and her story for us.

She walks and speaks with dignity and rigid control, smiling awkwardly to deceive her husband and herself. Each day that passes we see her initial control of her demeanour and speech degenerate.

The peeling yellow wallpaper in her nursery prison obsesses her. Its pattern shatters all aesthetic rules. Perkins' poetry is vivid and compelling. It is "a smouldering, unclean yellow," with a pattern of "lame, uncertain curves that suddenly commit suicide."

The woman describes the pattern as being like fungus, revealing strangled heads and bulbous eyes. But beneath the surface pattern she sees a creeping woman, trapped and trying to escape. It is this image that eventually takes over fragile mind.

Hegh is rivetting, vibrating with the despair and uneasy control of a shattered psyche. It is this desperate vocal and physical control of language and delivery that exaggerates the delicacy of the woman's mental state.

Evocative lighting by Luke Hails creates a series of dramatic spaces that highlight the feelings of entrapment and the vocal brightness of the woman's voice overs lend an eerie childlikeness to her plight.

By Kate Herbert

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