Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of George Eliot’s “Mill on the Floss” is great theatre that grips and absorbs you through its entire 3 hours. It also has some of the best acting I’ve seen on the London stage by a ‘whole’ company. Yes, this play is superb. It is this kind of quality drama that simply takes theatre into another dimension those other mediums like film and TV just cannot match.
This adaptation first appeared in the West End in 1994 and again Nancy Meckler brilliantly directs this revival. The drama concerns Maggie Tulliver’s struggle as she fights against the conventions of society and her unwillingness to conform. Three actors play Maggie at different stages in her life and represent different aspects of her persona that are fighting within her. There is the dark, disobedient and passionate one, the moralistic one, and the one torn between these two. This sounds as if it should be complicated, but due to brilliant writing and superb adaptation it is easy to follow.
This is a story of a woman’s self-sacrifice that is both pulsating and mesmerising. All the characters are rich and well developed. There is the father who allows pride and revenge to ruin him. There is the mother who seems to care more about her own loses than the rest of the families. There is the son who vows to restore the family honour, yet still follows in his fathers footsteps by seeking revenge and refusing to forgive. And there is the lonely crippled son of the families’ enemy who forges a doomed relationship with Maggie.
The play starts with suspicions that Maggie may be a ‘witch’. It is said that if you submerge someone under water and they die then they are not a’ witch’, but if they survive then they are. Either way they die! This is a no win situation for the person accused of being a ‘witch’ and this is a fitting analogy of Maggie's life. Maggie has to choose between fulfilling her own wishes for personal happiness and submerging them to conform to what is expected of her.
The acting is phenomenal by all. It is so hard to choose the best. Pauline Turner, Jessica Lloyd and Caroline Faber are all superb as their particular ‘Maggie’. Pip Donaghy produces a convincing performance as ‘Mr Tulliver’, and Hywel Morgan is also convincing as ‘Tom Tulliver’. Many of the actors play several parts, but you would not notice this if you didn’t look at the cast list. Michael Matus is particularly exceptional playing ‘Phillip Wakem’. Hilary Maclean and Joseph Millson make up this fine company.
The popular press liked it…… RACHEL HALLIBURTON for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “ The Shared Experience Theatre Company captures the heart and soul of this passionate work, so that it displays Eliot's talents in all their glory.” She goes on to say, “A strong cast recreates the closely observed comedy and the heartfelt tragedy of the novel.” BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, “You won’t find better ensemble acting in London”.
All lovers of drama must see this Shared Experience production because this is why theatre is simply the best!!
Production photos provided by EPO