Classic American short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, was brought to the stage in Dublin last week. The Daily Shift’s Alyson Henry reviews…
Last week saw the return of the Absolute Fringe Award 2011 winner The Yellow Wallpaper to the stage. This time at the Project Arts Theatre in Dublin. Written in 1890 by American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilmore, The Yellow Wallpaper is a gothic story about one woman’s physical and mental deterioration.
She is confined to the attic bedroom of her house by her husband determined to treat her ‘nervous hysterical condition’ with solitude. The short narrative is telling of America’s attitudes towards women and mental health in the Victorian era. It also pre-empts some literary tropes that were to come with modernism which saw the ghost story move from external horrors to interior horror, ghosts of the mind. As the programme reads “This might be a ghost story or worse yet, it might not”.
A stage adaption of the American gothic short story seems initially like an unusual follow-on for Project Arts Centre after the success of the productions it hosted during the Dublin Theatre festival, which saw the common trajectory of gritty urban Dublin. However given recent events, the theatrical exploration of a woman’s experience with callous medical practice The Yellow Wallpaper is perhaps more relevant to Irish society than we would like.
But how did this translate to stage?
The layout was devised in such a way as to create an immediate sense of claustrophobia, with the audience seated in a panel that ran down either side of the stage. Crucial to the story is that the nursery annexe’s yellow wallpaper. The woman’s growing obsession with the swirling patterns on the wallpaper marks her mental demise.
Then This Theatre Company interpreted the wallpaper with a torn black veil, which was draped on three sides of the stage, enclosing the woman. The audience was at eye level with the protagonist creating a sense that we were part of the yellow wallpaper surrounding her.
Throughout the piece, silence was used as much as music and darkness was used as much as lighting,creating episodic structure to the narrative. In a white night gown and barefoot, Maeve Fitzgerald gave a strong performance leading the audience seamlessly through various stages of the protagonist’s mental anguish. Despite the richness of the text, an hour of one woman talking mostly about wallpaper with no scene change, props or additional characters may have been potentially problematic as a piece of theatre. However, Fitzgerald’s use of expression, her physicality and emotional capacity as an actress ensured the piece was an immersive one-woman play and not merely a dramatic reading of the text.
Then This Theatre Company’s production of The Yellow Wallpaper has undoubtedly been the highlight of the Project Arts Theatre’s November programme, proving that non-profit organisations can make remarkable and thought-provoking drama that will haunt you long after you leave the theatre.