Director Dave Spencer talks about The Yellow Wallpaper – a new adaptation by Ruby Lawrence of one of the most important works of early American feminist literature.
The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story by American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, written in 1892. You’re directing an adaptation by Ruby Lawrence this June at Omnibus Theatre. How did you come across this piece?
I have worked with Ruby before on previous pieces and have been following her writing for a number of years now. I find her an incredible person to work with and collaborate with and it is so exciting to be working on her version of The Yellow Wallpaper in its first presentation on stage. The story it is based on by Perkins Gilman is a fascinating cult classic, a mainstay of Gothic horror, and I’m entranced by the updated and bolstered stage version that Ruby has created.
What drew you to this story?
The story itself plays so much into the zeitgeist and confusing political times we are living in at the moment. I like work that is current, that says something about the world we live in, and this piece does exactly that!
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story was an important work of the early American feminist literature, which illustrates attitudes towards women’s mental and physical health in the 19th century. Is this story still relevant for an audience nowadays?
I think it is possibly even more relevant! Yes the whole idea of a ‘rest cure’ (where people – primarily women – were prescribed rest and complete absence of intellectual stimulation in order to alleviate stress and ‘hysteria’) is a bygone nightmare. But, importantly, women are still constantly advised to ‘stop being emotional’ and to practice logic, when emotional experience is of just as much value as rational experience. Especially with the swathe of high-profile sexual assault cases currying the media pages at the moment, now more than ever are women accused of not having hard evidence and relying too much on their feelings. And money and the men who have it possess the power to shut them up. Women need their voice heard now as much as ever, despite our woke, feminist times.
What can the audience expect from your new production?
Audiences should come prepared for the short story to be blown wide open, examined, put under the microscope, and for its cells to multiply exponentially before their very eyes. We’re taking the piece and running with it. And it’s so exciting not knowing where the finish line may be.
“It questions why this woman is not equal to the men in her life. It asks why equality is not a factor. And then calls for it. That is feminism plain and simple.”
Do you consider it a feminist play?
Absolutely! It questions why this woman is not equal to the men in her life. It asks why equality is not a factor. And then calls for it. That is feminism plain and simple.
If you had to describe the play in three words, which ones would you choose?
Innovative, visceral, and relevant.
What’s your approach to directing this play?
As a director, I am all about clarity – am I telling the story in the cleanest way possible, does this make sense to the audience? With The Yellow Wallpaper I want to make sure that the audience understand Alice and who she is, why she has become this way, and how she veers so far off course. This needs to come across and I need to make sure that we serve the text and the human message behind the piece.
What do you want the audiences to go away with after the performance?
Alice is a strong person. She shouldn’t be beaten by the forces imposing themselves on her, but she is. Because it can happen to anyone, and it is tragic, no matter who you are. We all need to help each other, we need to look out for each other, and make sure that we stay in each others’ corners and fight as one.
You’re returning to the Omnibus Theatre, following a hugely successful production of The Soul of Wittgenstein in February. Why do you like working in this venue?
There’s such a wonderful feeling of creativity at the Omnibus Theatre. Marie McCarthy, the Artistic Director, has been incredibly supportive of my work and it was so lovely to receive this support with The Soul of Wittgenstein, which holds a very special place in my heart. The whole team there are full of vitality and drive, so it’s infectious being in the building. There are also two cats, so that’s definitely a huge reason I like working there.