The Yellow Wallpaper, presented by La Mama, is a striking exploration of one woman’s experience of post-natal depression. Originally written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the 1890s, director Lawrence Strangio, and performer Annie Thorold, have adapted the text for La Mama’s 2019 Season. This re-imagining of Gilman’s iconic feminist text is claustrophobic, exhausting, and most of all, incredibly effective.
This show is by no means an easy watch, the walls of the theatre seem to creep in on the audience as much as they do on Thorold’s character. It is through this sense of entrapment we are allowed a window into the world of Gilman. She is locked in a room indefinitely as ‘treatment’ for her post-natal depression, with no stimulus aside from the peeling yellow wallpaper clinging to the walls.
Interestingly, Strangio and Thorold choose not to provide us with the yellow wallpaper as part of the set, instead leaving Thorold to set the scene with her words. She speaks to us directly, and via voice-over. The distinction between, and intention behind the voice-over versus her live words, is not always clear. Perhaps it is a way of literally placing us inside her internal dialogue, influenced strongly by the views of her husband – who also acts as her doctor.
I find Thorold’s physicality the strongest aspect of the piece. Her movements remain small, and repetitive for the most part. The darkness which eats up at the stage serves to suppress her movements, undoubtedly a metaphor for the oppressors both internal and external to her mind. This contrasts against her release at the close of the text, where she runs in circles around the room, bathed in light. This powerful moment of catharsis is an image that will undoubtedly stick in the minds of audiences.
The themes The Yellow Wallpaper explores should feel outdated, they should feel inaccessible, yet they do not. And this is precisely what makes this show such a haunting experience. This piece reminds us that stigma around mental health and the minimisation of women’s health issues are yet to be fully dissolved. The Yellow Wallpaper is timeless, thought-provoking theatre at its best.
La Mama’s production of The Yellow Wallpaper ran at La Mama Courthouse from 6 — 17 March 2019.
Photography by Jason Cavanagh