VAULT FESTIVAL: MADAME OVARY

By Carmina Masoliver

tw: mentions of terminal illness

It’s that time of year again, and we’re now coming towards the end of it. VAULT Festival, now in its eight year, has opened up the tunnels of Leake Street and surrounding areas to bring even more shows than ever before.


It was when I saw Madame Ovary from WildChild Productions by Rosa Hesmondhalgh that I felt compelled to tell the world (or at least the Norwich Radical readers) about it, being the first show to propel me out of my seat and into a standing ovation. Previously having received a three-star review from Edinburgh in The Stage, I felt it deserving of so much more.

Rosa offers a fresh perspective that goes beyond the narrative of illness.

Having lost my ex-partner’s mother to cancer, I often feel drawn to stories about cancer, whether a way of still working through the grief, or as a reminder of the fragility and preciousness of life. Although Rosa’s story is one of survival, it does well to remember the above.

As a play on the novel title ‘Madame Bovary’, Rosa seems to want to also escape from the banalities and emptiness of life at the start, thinking up typically relatable New Years’ Resolutions before her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. A true story, we get to see a glimpse into Rosa’s character and life. Her humour carries us through a show that deals with this deeply harrowing subject matter.

Even though it may seem difficult to gain anything from such a story, Rosa offers a fresh perspective that goes beyond the narrative of illness. Having previously been searching for her own story, there is circularity to the piece – with the realisation that some things change for the better, some for the worse (now also suffering from PTSD) and some things just change.

Although Rosa’s story is one of survival, it does well to remember the [fragility and preciousness of life].

What stood out from any possible message Rosa wanted to convey, was a celebration of life and love. Not the romantic love that is so easy to feel pressured into pursuing at the expense of anything else (Rosa tells us of her Tinder date where she doesn’t say anything about her leg going numb for fear of it ending early), but rather the love of everyone – friends, family, and even strangers.

Madame Ovary started out as a blog, and as such it also proves the healing power of writing, at least in terms of the mental knock-on effect of such a difficult physical prognosis. Just two years on from her diagnosis, she is telling her story on stage.

VAULT Festival runs until 22nd March and Madame Ovary is on tour until the end of March. If you miss the show or would like a copy of the script, it is available from Nick Herne Books as part of NHB Modern Plays.

Featured image: Joe Chiaro on Pixabay


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