JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE YELLOW WALLPAPER at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 13.6.15.
3 stars ***
FIRST PUBLISHED in America in 1892, Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s story The Yellow Wallpaper is widely recognised as a great feminist classic, the first-person chronicle of a lively and creative young woman’s descent into madness, as her physician husband first diagnoses her as ill, and then prescribes her a life of unbearable silence and inactivity.
Forbidden to write lest she “tire herself”, the narrator gradually becomes obsessed with the strange, ugly yellow wallpaper of her room in which she spends most of her time; and by the time the story reaches its horrific ending, she is being haunted by the figures of other wild and terrifying women who live behind the wallpaper, images – it seems – of her repressed other selves.
Sandy Nelson’s brief stage version for the Play, Pie And Pint summer Classic Cuts season lasts barely 40 minutes; and it seems to me to weaken the story slightly by having the narrator’s “other self’ played by second performer – a writhing, wild-haired dancer, Katie Armstrong – when the real horror of the tale lies in the truth that our narrator and the woman behind the wall are the same, the one gradually becoming the other.
The show features some terrific sound and music by Andrew Cowan, though, and a beautiful, moving central performance from Hannah Donaldson as the narrator; and although other stage versions have done more to capture the full horror of her final transformation, this remains a brave and arresting version of a great story, that reminds us how easily the mental distress of unfree women can still be medicalised and dismissed, more than a century on.
Final performance today.