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Thursday 15 August 2019

Review: The Mill On The Floss @ Brighton Little Theatre

Director Claire Lewis brings this lovely adaptation of George Eliot's classic doorstop novel, The Mill on the Floss, to life at the Brighton Little Theatre with gusto. 

Credit Miles Davies Photography

The story of Maggie Tulliver's life is told using the clever device of three actresses playing the part - Naoise Wellings deftly portrays young Maggie - an inquisitive, ambitious and "naughty" child. 

Keziah Israel plays the second, religiously repressed and resigned to her dreary fate, steadfastly suppressing the younger Maggie's elemental nature to bow to the prosaic wishes of her brother - a detailed and transfixing performance. 

The third facet of Maggie, played by Mandy-Jane Jackson, is somewhat caught between the two, juggling her love for the aspiring politician (and her cousin's intended), Stephen Guest, with her unreconciled love for the sensitive and doting Philip Wakem, son of her father's nemesis. 

Jackson captures the conflict between duty and divided love very well. 

These three sides of Maggie's character often appear on stage together, with some delightful little moments of interaction between them - and it's a credit to these fine actresses that the conceit is easily accepted, and in this it is aided by some tender movement sequences between the three.

Portraying Mr and Mrs Tulliver (Maggie's parents), Bill Griffiths and Helen Schlüter shine - providing a line of continuation (and occasional lightness) through much of the narrative. 

In particular, Mr Tulliver's death (spoiler alert) is a very moving moment in a play full of moving moments. 

Another shining performance was given by Alan Stewart, portraying Philip, the intelligent and artistic admirer of Maggie, "malformed" and shunned by society - a most moving and sensitive performance; Stewart's likeability as a character overcame what could have seemed mawkish.

Also of note is Robert Purchese as the pompous and confident Stephen Guest, showering affection on Maggie even as he woos her cousin Lucy (a delightful Lucy Mae Knight). 

Stephen's seduction of Maggie, floating on her beloved Floss in a boat, is portrayed in a beautifully realised sequence, as the weight of the past crowds in and haunts Maggie's future. 

Able support as the disapproving aunt Glegg comes from Ann Atkins. 

With a cast of twenty, it's impossible to pick everyone out, but suffice to say that the everyone more than plays their part.

The production is chock full of original music (courtesy of Michael James) and movement sequences (courtesy of Graham Brown), both of which add immensely to the spectacle, and become vital to moving the action on both thematically and emotionally. 

Occasionally I wished for more text, but this would have come at the expense of these interludes, and if fault it be, it lies in the adaptation rather than the interpretation.

The difficulty of adapting from page to stage is sometimes considered cheating - books like The Mill On The Floss can always be directly compared to the reader-audience "inner vision" of what they saw in their mind's eye when reading it. 

As I am a barbarian having never read Eliot, I had no such preconceptions, and thoroughly enjoyed the production. 

Given the attention to detail and skill on show in everything from costume to the mannerisms of the characters, I can only imagine that Eliot readers will love it too.

In the open air of the BOAT and The Minack, (**see below for dates) the movement sections and the music (which were just a little dizzying given the jewel-box size of The Little) will grow and thrive to fill the stage. 

A beautiful show, moving and thoroughly recommended, at whichever venue you choose to catch it!

** Helen Edmundson's adaptation of George Eliot's novel, The Mill on the Floss, is at Brighton Little Theatre until  this Saturday, 17th of August, before transferring to Brighton Open Air Theatre (21st to 24th) and moving to The Minack, Cornwall )2nd to 6th September 2019).

by: Gary Cook


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