20 June 2024




I have followed Cornwall-based Ha Hum Ah Theatre Company for some years now and their growth has been a joy to watch. In collaboration with the Minack Theatre, they are currently touring in ‘The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary’, an adaptation (of sorts) by John Nicholson. Now, Nicholson has a very active and inventive mind and his variants of classic stories are often very funny, bonkers and off-the-wall; beloved of Le Navet Bete – a theatre company based in Exeter – for the most part the shows work well.

Gustave Flaubert’s novel tells of a woman bored with her dull existence in provincial France, saddled with an unexciting husband, she longs for thrills and for passionate love and fun; stymied by crippling debt and frustration she kills herself. In this adaptation the plot is, more or less, the same; the programme labels it as a ‘lovingly derailed’ version – spot on.

Now, there has been an absolute welter of tongue in cheek adaptations of classic novels recently and they have disappointed this reviewer more often than not. It’s pleasing to be able to say that this one doesn’t.

The precision of the comedy and accompanying sound effects, as well as a multitude of props and costumes are a testament to the skills of the Company as they offer a masterclass in comic storytelling. The extremely talented quartet of performers slip in and out of character with consummate ease clearly defining each and every one, often walking off stage one side to reappear the on the other almost instantaneously as someone else.

The simple set of doors and windows also offers plenty for the audience to enjoy whilst being practical for a small touring company. Special mention must go to the sound operator for the most accurate cueing of effects I can remember witnessing.

The play contains two of the funniest (if not THE funniest) sex scenes I have ever watched on stage (or, indeed anywhere); nothing salacious, just hysteria-inducing and, in one case, incredibly magical! The auditorium rocks with laughter.

Georgia Nicholson is everything you want from the central character; all passion, frustration and general abandon. A gift of a role which the actor throws everything at to create a tragic heroine for our times.

Darren Seed allows is ultra-expressive face to convey all his characters, but his dim, ineffective portrayal of Dr Bovary is a joyful creation of a bit of a twit,

Stephen Cavanagh has an absolute suitcase full of individuals to present and each and every one of them leaves the audience with a memory – such versatility is a joy to behold.

Ben Kernow, likewise, switches from one personification to another with great ease, whether it be the Ratman (in an almost narrator role) or the marvellously rakish Rodolphe – in which he is especially hilarious.

A cast of tip top performers who know exactly how to play this type of comedy.

Director Kirstie Davis offers free reign to the cast but knows just how far to let them go before the laughter stops. There are a few moments when the pace slows and the transition between scenes could use more linking music and, maybe, the script is just a little too long,  but overall it moves well.

Productions like this can be very much a curate’s egg, but here the sum of the parts are of a far higher standard than some other similar works; the audience are drawn along by the strength of the story and the artifice of the production.

Flaubert may be spinning somewhere, but this cracking production may even have the effect of encouraging those who see it to visit the original novel.



Georgia Nicholson

Stephen Cavanagh

Darren Seed

Ben Kernow



Writer – John Nicholson

Director – Kirstie Davis

Designer – Marion Harrison

Movement Director & Choreographer – Grace Murdoch

Composer & Sound Designer – Dan Bottomley

Lighting Designer – Simon Hutchings

Image – The Minack Theatre


A Ha Hum Ah & Minack Theatre Production