Witness an intense and dramatic adaptation of the classic English novel, George Eliot’s ‘The Mill on the Floss’, by exciting group Optic Nerve. Presenting theatre in pure form, see actors clad on stage with nothing more than expert skill and ensemble theatrics, as they take you to country England and the desperate needs of another era. This is moving story which drags you into its dramatic vortex, as the floss does the mill of the title.
This exciting presentation, simply and rustically staged, is in keeping with the novel’s era, and makes excellent use of the timbered hall of the venue, with its medieval details. A narrative both of class and gender, this is a tale of the uneducated poor of rural England, and the battles brought about by class-based change before the Industrial Revolution. Its central character, Maggie Tulliver, adds a layer of romantic love, and the flowering of the Self, showing us the role of women in the pre-modern world. The sacrifices forced upon her bring the question of feminine identity to the centre.
The company’s good use of rural English accents, singing, chanting and incanting, make this an historical drama with modern resonances. Why should a daughter of the house bend down to the will of her elder brother? To give up her love of learning, or romantic love, in order to fall in line with the family’s image? In this tale there is more than just the required personal sacrifice of the individual for the group; it is a commentary on women’s freedoms. In light of recent ‘honour killings’ by male siblings, the re-presentation of this tale with its heroine’s haunting pathos, brings such questions front of mind.
The amplified physicality of the production stamps it, with it’s stripped-back set and simple costuming. It relies instead on a bare centre, and a small raised promontory, akin to one a witch might walk on to be thrown into water to test for drowning. The viewer watches from a U-shaped auditorium, flanking the performance space on three sides, much as did local peoples as juries on the touring regional courts of the middle ages.
Physical theatre relying on bare essentials, the ensemble cast use their bodies with a ritualistic intensity that brings the dark tragedy and conflicted motives of the tale to life. The little ‘village’ of characters – locals, neighbours, farmers, landlords, and family – are all cast in this tale of baddies, goodies, the innocent, lovers, and the power of peer pressure as well as the grinding trauma of change.
The show is energetic, electric and disturbing, as all good plays should be, and is commended for its attack of the core topic at the centre of the narrative: what price personal freedom? Then, and now.
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold, and non-traditional performance platforms. On-the-street or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.