This review was first written for Theatre Bristol Writers
Sleep: Dream: Wake: Work: Drink: Eat: Repeat
Welcome to the humdrum life of Emma Barnicott, who works in a plumbing supplies warehouse on a Plymouth trading estate and comes home every evening to Paul, her husband of many years.
Not that we’re told this in so many words – in fact, in her experimental one-woman show, Bea Roberts takes the concept of ‘show not tell’ to its extreme. She hardly utters a syllable but reveals Emma’s story, to a backdrop of eighties’ bands like INXS and the Pretenders, through the multimedia use of a television, an overhead projector and laptops which project conversations and imagery on to two large screens at the back of the stage – and often on to Roberts herself.
Loosely based on a modern retelling of Madame Bovary, Roberts captures the remoteness of contemporary life; Emma updates her status and tracks her travelling daughter on Facebook and embarks on a witty email flirtation with a builder which threatens to tip over into reality. For all our technological progress since Flaubert ‘s novel was published in 1856, it seems we have not escaped the everyday tedium which leads to Emma shopping beyond her means online and fantasising about an affair with Michael Hutchence.
There are shades of Bridget Jones here as Emma counts the calories, she has mainly expended on wine, in a half-hearted attempt to lose weight. In her dreams, she is always lighter, sexier, more alive. In reality, the highlights of the life she longs to break free from are drunken conversations at a colleague’s leaving do and party rings – and increasingly intimate online exchanges with her builder.
This seamless storytelling is captivating; it’s as intriguing to anticipate the next move in Roberts’ relentless bustle as it is to absorb Emma’s story. The simplest things often work best: slides of her car journey to and from work and the inside of the office lift; pouring water into a Pyrex dish on the overhead projector to signify rain. Adding a sponge turns this into taking a shower – reminiscent of Katie Mitchell’s much larger scale, multimedia production of Virginia Woolf’s Waves.
It is playful, wistful and at moments unexpectedly profound. Maybe Emma’s Dad, gazing at the stars in all their infinity from his caravan, is the one who’s really got it right. Food for thought, that is much more substantial than party rings, anyway.
Reviewed on 11th July 2015.