Written in 1890, The Yellow Wallpaper was Charlotte Perkins Gilman's response to her misdiagnosis and treatment from prominent neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell, with his "resting cure" after the birth of her daughter. This epistolary short story explores the misogyny and scepticism women faced with regards to mental illness and how powerful men in a patriarchal society considered the health of women.
Performed by Annie Thorold, the story is predominantly told via a voice recording of her journal entries. In doing so, the essence of Gilman's story remains intact and allows for the audience members to be simultaneously inside and outside of The Narrator's mind. As Thorold has little dialogue it is her physical presence that is of critical importance and throughout the taut production she manages to convey the anxiety and the anger that is felt by our protagonist.
The stage is empty except for an imposing table placed in the middle of the large space and through Jason Crick's lighting design, the tension of this text is clearly sensed. While the story is descriptive and vivid, it could have been a nice touch to have the yellow wallpaper present in some way, so we can see exactly what The Narrator was surrounded with. As it is, much detail is given to its appearance and other features that it isn't difficult to visualise it. The gradual "undressing" of The Narrator as she succumbs to the yellow wallpaper is intelligently depicted with the final moments of seeming joy highlighting the irony that Gilman's uses in her story.
While this minimalistic approach to the story could easily have lost momentum and become stagnant, Laurence Strangio's direction ensures that it works as an extension to the text. It gives the audience time to understand the challenges and issues faced by The Narrator but also to consider how women in contemporary times are now battling with a right to control their bodies and improve the health and wellbeing services available to them.
Just like the wallpaper in this story begins to dig away at The Narrator's mind, so too does The Yellow Wallpaper dig away at its audiences'. The more you think about it, the more you see the horrors that lie beneath with respect to how women are viewed and treated by society and the medical profession, and subsequently the more this becomes a powerful and truly terrifying work.
Venue: La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond St. Carlton.
Season: until 17 March | Wed - Thurs 6:30pm, Fri - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 4pm
Tickets: $30 Full | $20 Conc
Bookings: La Mama Theatre
Photo Credit: Jason Cavanagh