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The Yellow Wallpaper review at Omnibus Theatre, London – ‘effective glimpse into postnatal depression’

Gemma Yates-Round in The Yellow Wallpaper at Omnibus Theatre, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli Gemma Yates-Round in The Yellow Wallpaper at Omnibus Theatre, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli
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Taking its cue from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 gothic feminist short story The Yellow Wallpaper, Ruby Lawrence’s intelligent re-imagining makes for an effectively suffocating glimpse inside the mind of a woman suffering from severe postnatal depression.

The protagonist, named Alice in this version, is introduced to the audience in the middle of her pregnancy with her first child, and all appears to be well. Some months later, she has been taken away from her daughter and placed in her husband’s crumbling country pile. Her pleasures of reading and writing are forbidden as catalysts of unnecessary “excitement” that will only make her heightened emotional state worsen.

Dave Spencer’s tightly wound production features striking performances. Charles Warner’s performances as ‘not Alice’, including the alternately lenient and controlling husband John, a manipulative doctor and domineering housekeeper Nancy, could be more sharply differentiated, but he captures the mansplaining superiority and toxicity of paternalistic indulgence towards the “little goose” all too well.

Gemma Yates-Round gives a tremendous central performance as Alice, imbued with too much creative energy to relax as instructed. The creation of an original fairytale for her daughter is a lovely touch, highlighting the cathartic powers of storytelling and folk tales to make sense of internal chaos.

Mayou Trikerioti provides an artfully clean set design consisting of a room containing a chaise longue and decorated with sinister yellow walls that disconcertingly change shade and texture according to the lighting, to which Alice develops a kind of Stockholm syndrome in spite of herself.

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Late-Victorian feminist classic retains an uncanny resonance in Ruby Lawrence's present-day updating