Interview with… Tamsyn Payne & Alex Rex | Directors of Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary

There’s just a few days now before Masque bring the comic-tragedy by Rosanna Lowe – Madame Bovary, to The Playhouse Theatre – last week we talked to the cast, this time, we’ve grabbed hold of Directing Team Tamsyn Payne and Alex Rex to find out even more…

What lead you to picking Madame Bovary by Rosanna Lowe to perform?

Tamsyn: I saw this original production of Rosanna Lowe’s Madame Bovary as an impressionable thing in 2002. At the time I had a desk job at Derngate and was working hard on being a good little bee in what was a predominantly male-dominated theatre world, certainly, directors were almost always men. One of my jobs was to create the programmes, and I was assigned to make something cheap and cheerful for a rural-touring production of Madame Bovary. It had been commissioned by Theater-In-Education director Simon Godwin. These shows were made on really tight budgets and bundled into the rep. van to do the rounds of various villages in Northants.

I wandered into the rehearsal room to meet Rosanna, who had not only written this version but was directing it too, and just fell in love with the whole thing.

I’d seen a couple of physical theatre shows before but something about the themes of the story, the warmth of the cast and Rosanna herself who was really welcoming and happy to share what she was doing, it was a bit of a light bulb moment for me, and the start of my journey away from the desk and into the creative stuff that I do now. So I’ve been hoping to do a revival of this show since I started directing for Masque, and I hoped Alex would love it too (she did phew! It’s so demanding it wouldn’t have been possible without her level of training and knowledge). Rosanna agreed to let us use her script which had been languishing in a drawer since then and that was that. (By the way, the programme we ended up making for the 2002 show involved R&Ds volunteers lacing up a couple of thousand corset-printed programmes with satin ribbon. I spoke to one ex-volunteer about it a few weeks ago and she still has flashbacks of all that lacing! Not something I plan to replicate…)

The Madame Bovary Creative Team

The novel isn’t traditionally known as a comedy – is the play still true to the book?

Alex Rex: The play definitely stays true to Flaubert’s work. Like any adaptation from novel to stage or screen, there have been cuts but key events and characters are all there to enjoy for fans of the book. Plus there are some beautiful direct quotes and language used in the play. Now the comedy – the original novel does mock and ridicules its anti-heroes and anti-heroine, but Flaubert also asks us to consider their humanity. The audience can go on the wonderful rollercoaster of emotion, from laughter to tears, with Emma Bovary.

You’ve cast the roles of Leon and Rodolphe with women instead of men – was that a decision you made early on?

Alex: Tamsyn and I had discussed early on that as 3 out of the 4 actors played multiple parts and both genders that the gender of the actor playing the roles wasn’t important. It was more important to find a group of actors who could work as an ensemble and have fun representing the characters.

With a small cast and lots of characters, I imagine costume is key to keeping track of who’s who?

Tamsyn: Indeed, keeping track of wardrobe is a real challenge for this one! Every character has at least a silly hat, most have coats to change but as the actors never leave the stage, there’s a limit to the degree of changing we can have. Don’t worry, they all have a base layer on so you won’t get any flashes! Emma’s dress is a favourite, blue taffeta crinoline and corset, not the easiest costume for the amount of acrobatics she pulls off in this show, but she’s managed it so far!

You’ve shared some great pictures of the puppets involved in Madame Bovary on Facebook – do we have more interesting props to look forward to?

Tamsyn: Yes it feels like millions of them, the only thing there is more of, than costumes in this show… is props. Lisa our ASM has the unenviable task of keeping track of them all. There are well over 100 props, most of them used more than once and a good third of those, are objects that our creative team have made. It’s a show full of tricks and delights! The puppets are something else though, Lauren Hubbard is an artist whose studio is upstairs from the rehearsal room, she’s made all sorts of demanding things for us in the past including the wind machine for It’s a Wonderful Life and dead body ‘Mr Spinalzo’ for Arsenic & Old Lace. The full-size puppets of Berthe (the child) and Djali (the greyhound) that she’s created for Madame Bovary are really special and we are really grateful to her for donating her awesome skills to the show! Elizabeth Palmer made all our smaller puppets, which I won’t list (spoilers!), she is usually on stage (recently in Anthony & Cleopatra and The Rover) so it’s been great to steal her away into the creative team for this show. She is a fine-artist and teacher so her creations are really beautiful (though she’s on strict instructions to make them quick and dirty!)

L-R: Mairead Kearins, Lou Chawner, Julia Langley, Beverley Webster

And lastly, we’ve heard rumours that one of your cast is now performing in a plaster cast! How much has had to change -have you come up with some ingenious work-arounds?

Tamsyn: We have! It took several hours and a lot of coffee (by which I mean gin and swearing) but Alex and I did some tweaking and it all works again! We couldn’t think about changing Lou, you’ll see why when you watch his performance! Essentially we just reblocked a few bits so that the other cast members take on the majority of the movements. The acrobatic elements, characters who have to climb on things and lift people, have been taken on by Alex, who is always a joy to watch so no problems there! It does mean the space onstage is now hilariously tight, props actors and set all stay on the ‘cosy’ playhouse stage throughout. But in keeping with the manic, chaotic style of the show it all works. And Lou’s been a trouper – he even chose a black cast rather than the jazzy pink one we know he really wanted…



Madame Bovary runs at The Playhouse Theatre, Clare St from 10 – 14 April 2018

Tickets: £9 (Concessions £8 / Members £7) available from St Giles Music, by phone on 07783531542 or online at

Suggested as suitable for 14+

For more information, find Masque on Facebook and Twitter, and their website.

Photo credits:  Masque Theatre Facebook & Joe Brown