George Elliot’s classic novel comes to life in this adaptation by Helen Edmundson, in a very fine production by Headgate Young Company at the Headgate Theatre.
The story of Maggie Tulliver, intelligent and headstrong in a time when women were not encouraged to be so (the novel places the action circa 1829), is still relevant today, where educating young girls is still forbidden in parts of the world. The adaptation gives us three Maggies: the first, aged 9, fiery with temper and passion; the second, suppressing her feelings and former spirit; and the third, a well-rounded woman who understands all too well the social codes she must battle. It all builds to a flood when the Floss bursts its banks, both physical and metaphorical, as Maggie is overwhelmed by her feelings and the pressure of societal disapproval as Stephen Guest, supposedly engaged to her best friend Lucy, ruins her reputation, even though Maggie throughout tries to do the decent thing.
Skilfully and beautifully directed by Brooke Parratt, a fine ensemble muti roll presents characters with ease, and the movement work and flow of the piece (no pun intended) keep the text lively and create memorable stage pictures.
The transition between the three Maggie’s is clear and compelling, and the actors are excellent. Juliette Berry perfectly captures Maggie’s childish tantrums, spontaneity, and innocence, and a particularly excellent Eva Balding conveys middle Maggie’s suppression of her younger self as she negotiates a world where her father has lost their beloved Mill. They work hard to pay off his debt. Maddy Smith then effortlessly takes on the mantel of the third stage of Maggie’s life, fighting to retain honour and dignity against a misogynistic society. Isaac Blake is especially effective as her real love; Phillip Wakem, son of the family’s sworn enemy; and Alfie Hester are perfect as both Tom and her brother, capturing the complexity of their bond and the priggish Wakem. Bryony Diss crosses gender roles with ease, and Lizzie Thomson and Charli Piper complete a perfectly cast production.
A special mention must go to Daniel Farquharson for his outstanding lighting design; the show is beautifully atmospheric. The young company tackles the text’s complexity with maturity, and the exposition is delivered with conviction and never preaches. A terrific start to the autumn season!