The Mill on the Floss.

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The Mill on the Floss
The Mill on the Floss

TheatreWorks yet again presents an amazing set, cast and production for their iteration of George Eliot’s, aka Mary Ann Evans, book The Mill on the Floss, a stage version adapted by Helen Edmundson

This visceral work directed by Tanya Gerstle left me stunned, torn but also reborn on my belief in true love. Theatreworks yet again presents an amazing set, cast and production for their iteration of George Eliot’s, aka Mary Ann Evans, book. An author forced to change her name because in the mid-19th century females were less considered able to write literature worthy of publishing, let alone read.

I am not a fan of classic feminist literature or much a fan of that era of novelist, probably very shallow in my depth with the classics so I can only speak from the experience of the play I witnessed.

A haunting dirge wailing and growing in a stark black performance area, from the moment the actors appeared on stage in their all white simple linen garments the contrast made for a space where you were sucked into the storyline and believing every word and visualising the scene as it may have been.

It is a broad mixed delivery of straight dialogue, astounding physical energy both violent and poignant, the actors using their magnificent voices in songs that make you reel, using the entirety of the performance space, including some stunning entrances coming in from behind the audience to express the mood, the weather, and some physical scenes that need to be seen to be appreciated.

The physicality of the show by performers of the Optic Nerve Performance Group is outstanding, from nuanced drama scenes to raw assault, amazing low key gymnastics and full on male to male fight scenes and the props will inform you through the power of the voice the actors have given them.

An archetypal theme for our time, I have been affected deeply by this performance. A story of unrequited love due to warring families and a star crossed love of the children of the warring families. A girl way ahead of her time who was encouraged by her father to stretch herself, maintain her independent soul, sadly in a time when that was problematic.

A story so well expressed by this troupe of multi-talented artists who take many roles during the performance in convincing styles.

It struck me hard, it opened a window for me; it was a story about the total futility of closing down hope and self-protection driven by abuse and taking the risk of allowing one’s heart to make the right choices for themselves.

The lead role is played by 3 characters representing the different states of consciousness this young woman progresses through, from a loving father but jealous and often nasty older brother and a relatively uncaring mother.

When her father dies her brother assumes head of the family after a loss of the family business and she is bound to his wishes in regards to most aspects of her life, including denying her true love because of the family war.

She leaves the family home of oppression, derision and denial and strikes out to affirm her independence and succeeds in creating a life for herself. On return to the family home not only is her independence challenged by the ogre of her brother’s control but also finds her crossed up with a close friend’s betrothed and her past true love.

Poor choices turn to emotional and familial disasters and leave our lead contemplating her life and loves and deciding it is safer and better for everyone if she simply tows the line to the horror of her torturers, whether amongst them or not, to deny herself love for fear of changing the people she loves, doesn’t want to interfere with their lives, create no burden, better just to feel empty and concentrate on emotional safety at the expense of true happiness…but survive. Some may say she was courageous, I think not, more terrified of oneself of allowing herself to love and be loved.

So enthralled by this performance when this soliloquy occurred I found myself screaming NOOOO don’t do THAT!

Having never read the book the tragic ending is operatic, the last minutes of Mill on the Floss left me mulling over the fact that all the anguish and abuse, the history, hate and love were washed off the face of the earth in seconds by our planet’s disregard of our human foibles.

Stunned by the performance as I walked out into the Theatreworks bar to see an amazing array of fresh oysters and bar full of drinks for this opening night, I managed one oyster and a bubbly and had to leave, my mind was spinning, reeling through my life recognizing how many times I had denied myself, walked away, thinking that it is better for them…sometimes kindness is the finest form of cruelty but true love cannot, shouldn’t be denied because the roll on effects make life miserable.

Optic Nerve Performance Group – Zahra Newman, Grant Cartwright, Luisa Hastings Edge, Tom Heath, Rosie Lockhart, Maddie Nunn, George Lingard, and James O’Connell

The season at Theatreworks runs from 28 July – 13 August