Thursday 14th July and Friday 15th July 1983
Directed by John Scadding
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's eerie 19th-century novella 'The Yellow Wallpaper' became a classic of feminist fiction, a pioneering portrait of the trauma of postnatal depression. Adapted from her autobiographical short story, the play portrays with chilling authority, the powerlessness of an American woman, stifled by her marriage.
This play was staged (free of charge) on two occasions after the performance of The Threepenny Opera, as part of a new Bench initiative called Late Night Theatre.
Although it was not the first or longest of her works, without question Gilman's most famous piece is her short story 'The Yellow Wallpaper' which became a best-seller of the Feminist Press. It was published in 1892 in an issue of The New England Magazine. Since its original printing, it has been anthologised in numerous collections of women's literature, American literature, and textbooks. 'The Yellow Wallpaper' is often described as a masterpiece. Since its rediscovery in the 1970s by a new generation of women, it has become a cult classic, even passed on by word of mouth.
When Gilman wrote this novella in 1890, fictionalising her own nervous breakdown after the birth of her daughter, and her treatment by a leading physician (Dr S Weir Mitchell) she had to battle to get it into print. The editor of the Atlantic Monthly gave it a curt rejection, which Gilman recounts in her memoir. "Dear Madam," he replied, "I could not forgive myself if I made others as miserable as I have made myself." When Gilman's novella was eventually published in The New England Magazine, in 1891, it elicited a number of angry letters, including one from a doctor who protested, "The story can hardly, it would seem, give pleasure to any reader... such literature contains deadly peril. Should such stories be allowed to pass without severest censure?" More than a century later 'The Yellow Wallpaper' has lost nothing of its unsettling power - the kind that troubled its early readers, and enthrals many more of us now.
The narrator is suffering from what she describes at the start as a 'temporary nervous depression - a slight hysterical tendency'. This is the label her illness has been given by her husband and her brother - both doctors. The treatment prescribed is rest, and with this aim, she is confined to the top-floor room of a large country house that has been rented for the purpose. The terrible, stifling prescription is that she must do nothing - she must not write, cannot see friends, her baby is cared for by a nursemaid - and soon she finds the only freedom allowed her is to examine the peeling yellow wallpaper around her. Before long the narrator has begun to perceive the figure of a woman behind the sinister pattern, and then more women - some beneath the monstrous Gothic design, others creeping in the landscape beyond her barred windows - until eventually, driven mad by her confinement (quite literally, bored out of her mind), she peels the wallpaper away from the walls and joins the shadowy figures around her.
The story illustrates how women's lack of autonomy is detrimental to their mental, emotional, and even physical well being. The narrator in the story must do as her husband, who is also her doctor, demands, although the treatment they prescribe to her contrasts directly with what she truly needs - mental stimulation, and the freedom to escape the monotony of the room to which she is confined. 'The Yellow Wallpaper' has been adapted for radio, television, film, stage and dance.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977. It was produced as part of 'Late-night Theatre' - a free occasional performance of shorter or experimental works introduced by Bench Theatre at this time to follow their regular staged productions.
|Stage Management||David Graham|
Shortly after The Threepenny Opera has ended on Thursday and Friday, Bench Theatre will present this play-for-one-woman.
'The Yellow Wallpaper' is as American story written in 1890 and first published two years later. It is largely autobiographical. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was primarily a lecturer and prolific writer of non-fiction works on the subject of women. Overlooked for almost forty years, the story has been rediscovered by the feminist movement. It is presented tonight in its entirety.
The performance is given free of charge and runs for about 40 minutes.
Late-night Theatre is a new departure for the company and we hope it will be of interest to our regular audience to see work which it would be impossible for us to include in our main season. We aim to present short pieces by established writers as well as more experimental material, such as adaptations of work not originally created for the stage.