The Magnetic Diaries
A narrative of love, lust, betrayal and depression, The Magnetic Diaries re-envisages the characters and storyline of Gustave Flaubert’s masterpiece Madame Bovary in a contemporary English setting. The modern-day heroine, Emma Bailey, battles with romantic idealism, illusions about love, a stifling middle-class lifestyle, boredom and depression.
Moving lyrical fragments and crafted poems from Emma’s diary are set alongside the voices of her doctors and emails from her husband Carl. But will modern medicine save Emma and her family in the wake of adultery and neglect?
"The poetry is divine. Rich, complex, visual, flowing and tumbling out with power and aliveness, gathering images of microscopic and sometimes delightfully unexpected detail (The chimney coughs… ), sliding us into the uneasy and intense experience of the world seen through a depressive." Fringe Review
Autumn Tour Dates:
2nd October The Alma Theatre Bristol . Tickets available here.
7th October Hereford Chapel Arts Centre . Tickets available here.
15th October Malvern Cube - F.E.A.S.T Theatre Festival Launch. Tickets available here.
22nd October Birmingham MAC. Tickets available here.
24th October London The VAULTS. Tickets available here.
2016 Summer Tour Dates:
14th June The Hive 8pm (Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe).
5th July The Market Theatre Ledbury 8.30pm. (Ledbury Poetry Festival).
15th-27th August ZOO (Edinbugh Fringe Festival) 1pm.
“The Magnetic Diaries shows how wondrous and creative life can be despite living with depression, but also how exhausting and relentless.” Helen Babbs, SICK OF THE FRINGE
“a tour de force of modern times….. evidence that unique, challenging voices can still find a place in modern English poetry and theatre.” NEWSQUEST
“A moving and thought provoking piece of poetic drama, performed exquisitely by Vey Straker. The set was creatively used … the direction was excellent. An engrossing commentary on depression and it’s effects on all those around us - especially our nearest and dearest.” Jan Bailey
“Powerful, moving, real, touching the void of postnatal depression in a way most writing avoids.” Julie North, Freelance Arts Reviewer
“In Emma Bailey, Sarah James has created a character whose many-layered complexity is perfectly revealed through rich, lyrical prose…A moving performance not to be missed.” Karen Curry, Write On Festival
“A moving, enlightening and thought-provoking piece of theatre.” Philippa May, Hereford Times
“An exceptionally fine piece of poetic writing, beautifully crafted and wonderfully performed. This is one of those rare theatrical experiences that I will never forget. It deals bravely with a challenging subject while never failing to be first class theatre. I was spellbound from the beginning to the end.” Chris Green, board member Courtyard Arts Centre, Hereford, former Director of The Poetry Society.
“We knew we were watching something special. What was to unfold on the stage had the entire audience captivated. With a foundation of a strong, emotive tale and the unusual concept of a poetry manuscript, combined in a heart wrenching piece of theatre. One that I believe (from suffering depression) could actually help promote mental health. A strong piece.” Nina Lewis, Audience Member.
Poetic Drama for Festival
Love, lust and betrayal are given a new twist as The Magnetic Diaries takes to the stage at Ledbury's Market Theatre.
The gripping poetry-play by award-winning poet Sarah James is an innovative reworking of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary in a contemporary English setting
The adulterous heroine, Emma Bailey, played by Vey Straker, battles with romantic idealism, illusions about love, a stifling middle-class lifestyle, boredom and depression - pussing her life and marriage to the brink.
Moving lyrical fragments, crafted poems from Emma's diary, subtle physical language and voiceover effects all feature in this solo show from Reaction Theatre Makers.
The atmospherically charged production directed by Tiff Hosking, includes Arts Council England-funded musical score devised specifically by composer Joanna Karsellis.
The script was also selected for top billing at the Write On Festival 2015 at The Courtyard, Hereford.
Chris Green, board member Courtyard Arts Centre, Hereford, former director of The Poetry Society said "An exceptionally fine piece of poetic writing, beautifully crafted and wonderfully performed. This is one of those rare theatrical experiences that I will never forget."
See The Magnetic Diaries at the Market Theatre, Ledbury on Tuesday, July 5th as part of Ledbury Poetry Festival. For tickets, visit poetry-festival.co.uk or call the box-office on 01531 636232.
The Magnetic Diaries will then go to Edinburgh Fringe where it runs at Zoo from August 15th - 27th.
Published in the Hereford Times
Play is Poetry in Emotion
A POETRY play which was given life by The Courtyard’s Write On Festival last year is now on a national tour and will return to Hereford for a night at the Chapel Arts Centre, RNCB, on Friday, October 7.
The Magnetic Diaries by Sarah James is an innovative reworking of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary in a contemporary English setting and was Highly Recommended by critics at this year's Edinburgh Fringe.
Reviewers described the show as “intensely moving” and the poetry as “divine. Rich, complex, visual, flowing and tumbling out with power and aliveness…” One journalist wrote that the piece ‘‘shows how wondrous and creative life can be despite living with depression…”
The troubled, adulterous heroine, Emma Bailey, battles with a stifling middle-class lifestyle, unattainable fantasies and untreatable depression – pushing her life and marriage to the brink. Her journey of intense highs and lows includes a course of treatment in a pioneering brain therapy, Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.
Last year, The Courtyard’s new-writing judges were impressed by the script for the one-woman show and helped Sarah, a first-time playwright, find a theatre team to bring the script to the stage.
"We were blown away by the haunting subject material and rich, lyrical prose," comments Karen Curry, the Write On Chair, "and felt it deserved a strong actor and director to do it justice. So we used our connections and invited locally based actress Vey Straker and Malvern-based Reaction Theatre Makers director Tiffany Hosking to take this beautiful play about depression and bring it to life, which they did."
When the show’s team then needed to make a fundraising film last year, to take the show on tour, The Chapel Arts Centre provided a venue, and a host of other local organisations and individuals helped out, such as film director Nathan Williams, The Rural Media Company, the Sealegs Puppet Theatre, local actor Alex Evans and lighting technician David Hewitt.
The funding bids to the Arts Council England, the Elmley Foundation and Worcestershire Council were successful and as a result the show has benefited from professional choreographer Lizzie Giraudeu and a musical score by competition-winning composer Joanna Karsellis. The sponsored tour has included Ledbury Poetry Festival, Worcestershire Literary Festival and Bristol Poetry Festival and is still to tour Birmingham, Malvern and London in October.
Vey Straker, who plays Emma Bailey, says, "This has been a wonderful opportunity for the whole team, and I am well aware that it would never have been possible without the enthusiastic support and collaboration of Herefordshire’s theatre and media talent. We’re delighted to be bringing it back to Hereford for the students of the Royal National College as well as the wider public to enjoy."
The Magnetic Diaries is at The Chapel Arts Centre, RNCB, on Friday, October 7 at 7.30pm. To reserve, call 01432 376320 or book online at thechapelarts.co.uk. Tickets will also be available on the door.
By Philippa May
Published in the Hereford Times
Magnetic Diaries Poweful addition to festival line-up
THE Magnetic Diaries is an incredible piece of work: a long poem, essentially a one woman play, a tour de force of modern times, a contemporary tragedy with one dominant, inspired yet unhappy voice.
I settled into my seat at Ledbury's Market Theatre while casting a jaundiced eye at the set, which essentially consisted of two step ladders joined by a plank. I didn't know what to expect. I expect that no one did.
The main character, Emma, played brilliantly by Vey Straker, was the only character on stage. All other characters were off-stage voices: from the dry tone of the doctor to the hurt, confused questions from a husband severely challenged by the serial adultery and alcoholism of his depressed wife.
This, then, is a play about depression; it's about being self-absorbed and intensely alive at the same time. Emma is both those things.
That weird set, with those step-ladders and the plank, is a feature of Emma's universe: her inner life which, at times, is simply everything to her. She climbs those ladders, she takes up her Magnetic Diaries and she sets them down again. There's simply no space for anyone else, not even for her little daughter, Beth.
At times, Emma is not a likeable character. Even when magnetic pulses are passing through her head, as part of the therapy, it's difficult to really like her. This, I think, is part of the plot. Her depression is the plot, in that we start to care, despite ourselves.
It is hard to see how anyone so beautifully alert to the everyday could ever be so depressed. A train "angles its snout through daisied fields and wounded earth". Emma observes how "we race the shadow selves trying to pass us".
None of these exquisite observations will save Emma, because she cannot put the imagery together into a wider, more comprehensive vision.
With a focus on inner-life, psychology and a woman's unhappiness, I was reminded a little of DM Thomas's experimental novel, "The White Hotel".
But this is not to detract from the originality and talent of the author, the poet Sarah James.
The script was adapted from her Forward Prize 'highly commended' collection, and the streams of powerful language and the insights at her command provide much-need evidence that unique, challenging voices can still find a place in modern English poetry and theatre.
The play was performed as part of the Ledbury Poetry Festival.
By Gary Bills-Geddes
Appeared in Worcester News, Malvern Gazette and Ledbury Reporter
Magnetic Diaries Review
Reaction Theatre Makers brought their production of Sarah James' poetry play 'The Magnetic Diaries' to The Studio Space at The Hive, Worcester, as part of the Worcestershire Literary Festival & Fringe’s festival programme on Tuesday 14th June.
Veyatie Straker plays Emma Bailey, a ’modern day Madame Bovary’, mother and wife, undergoing an innovative treatment for her mental health. The heroine battles with romantic idealism, illusions about love, a stifling middle-class lifestyle, boredom and depression. Moving lyrical fragments and crafted poems from Emma’s diary are set alongside the voices of her doctors and emails from her husband Carl; the intricate poetry, and visually stunning movements made for an electrifying performance from the actor. Tiffany Hosking’s direction seemed incredibly precise, and the remarkable, sympathetic musical score by Joanna Karselis created a chilling atmosphere. The overall look, feel and sound was totally immersive and the audience were deeply appreciative: their positive response post-show is perhaps testament to how truly moving the play is. A narrative of love, lust, betrayal and depression, The Magnetic Diaries is not easy to watch. However an accurate depiction of depression is hard to find in the mainstream media, and the painful, complicated combination of the physical and the auditory make this a powerful piece of theatre.
The Magnetic Diaries is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until the 27th August (except 21st) at ZOO, 140 The Pleasance, at 1pm.
A further tour of the show in October 2016 includes Malvern Cube, 15th October.
Published in SLAP Mag
Highly Recommended Show
“…this love is a frying of my insides, the curling edges of another’s bridal petticoat whose lace shape won’t be hacked to make a perfect daughter, wife or mother”
Emma, through poetry based narrative, takes us deeply into her inner life, her sensitivities and almost onomatopoeic experience of the minutiae of life around her. We see her, middle class, married with a young child, stifled, frustrated, waiting for something. We see her anxiety and depression escalate until, as detailed by the calm juxtaposition of the Psychiatrists voice over, she is diagnosed with moderate – severe depression and is calmly and coolly prescribed a course of treatment in a pioneering brain therapy, Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. We see her mania conclude in a passionate fling that later dissolves in scratchy cockroach bitterness. We hear her husband’s voice; comforting, domestic, worried, in everyday language bringing into sharp focus again the complex and visual poetic expression of Emma who seems to both shrink back from and rejoice in the sensory experiences of the everyday (“Into a kimono of steam”).
The stage is set with what looks like a climbing frame, bringing to mind at first glance frozen images of childhood, but that becomes the changeable setting for different scenes – the kitchen, the bedroom, the London tube, busy streets and the hospital treatment bed while her brain is pulsed with magnetic rays, the soundtrack ticking with visceral teeth jarring clarity. Vey Straker (Emma) doesn’t miss a beat in this demanding and ambitious piece; a committed and focused performer.
The introduction was brilliant, dropping us straight into this abstract and deliciously visceral language; “Boiled eggs explode in microwaves. This is myth because you cannot ‘boil’ an egg in the microwave, my Pedant says, his voice sticky yolk. Actually, I can’t boil an egg at all, whines Self-Pity, turning every thought to a slippery white that will not set, even when fried.. ….. Oh, shut up, you darling fool! Drama Queen flounces in. You’ve a cherry cake to ice, lovers to resist and enough omelette eggs to break a thousand hearts! Stop it with that nonsense, Earth-Mother imparts. Go tend to your daughter, learn to be the perfect wife! All life is myth: play your part without complaining and we’d all have less strife, insists the Ego/Critic/Determined-To-Have-The-Last-“
The poetry is divine. Rich, complex, visual, flowing and tumbling out with power and aliveness, gathering images of microscopic and sometimes delightfully unexpected detail (The chimney coughs… ), sliding us into the uneasy and intense experience of the world seen through a depressive. While researching this show I came across a quote from Bovary mirroring aptly the longing felt throughout Sarah James’ narrative to express the deeper more perplexing aspects of human experience and, which is often achieved through superb writing.
“The truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.” ― Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
What would add to this poetic narrative would be more of a sense of who Emma was when not enveloped in depression – brief moments portraying a sense of her normality, her everydayness in her natural habitat. I’m not quite in sympathy with our protagonist; I feel disconnected from her as indeed she feels towards the world around her. Her abstract intense language creating occasional distance for the viewer reminds us that overly complex language can take us away from connecting with the heart of the play, as thinking overtakes feeling. The voice overs of the Doctor and the husband were vivid and effective, adding poignancy, emotion and breath. The poetic narrative in some places would have benefited from a breath or two more, giving a chance for some of the particularly juicy lines to sink in, allowing the audience time to connect with the imagery. Some further exploring around the physicality of the performance would add to the strong verbal prose.
To appreciate the language of this piece, the quality of the writing and Straker’s commitment to the performance the audience needs to concentrate fully, which in a digital age is a marvellous thing. As this work grows and develops it will I think start to shed some bulkiness and through a lightening of language and a filling out of plot will find its’ perfect compromise between academic intensity and light entertainment. I would recommend going to see this show; the subject is raw and intensely moving, the whole production has been produced with care and professionalism, and the poetic language is boldly breath-taking. A thought provoking approach to the dramatic monologue.
by Didi Craze
Published September 1, 2016
Diagnosis for Sick of the Fringe
A poetry play based on Madame Bovary, The Magnetic Diaries describes a contemporary battle with severe depression, and the course of brain-altering repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) therapy that our protagonist, Emma, embarks on.
Emma's voice is vivid and fierce, her experienced world intensely beautiful and intensely painful. She loves her husband and her daughter deeply, but her depression stops her sleeping, pushes her to take sexual risks, and to court death. She decides to seek treatment at a private clinic, temporarily living away from home in a rented flat in London.
The rTMS that Emma tries is a type of electroconvulsive therapy. It's often only considered when psychological therapies and antidepressant medications have failed to have an impact. It usually involves a series of daily, 30 minute sessions, typically over the course of two to six weeks.
NICE explain the procedure: 'A purpose‑made electromagnetic coil is held against the scalp with the intention of inducing electric currents in the cerebral cortex... Repetitive pulses of electromagnetic energy are delivered at various frequencies or stimulus intensities... Stimulation can either be delivered unilaterally, over the left or right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or bilaterally over both cortices.'
The rTMS appears to work for Emma, on paper at least, and she eventually returns home. But she misses her follow up appointments, leaves her bills unpaid, and stops returning her doctor's calls. Emma begins to spiral downwards, and death once again seems like the only viable option to make the pain stop. Through its poetic script, The Magnetic Diaries shows how wondrous and creative life can be despite living with depression, but also how exhausting and relentless. (HB)
By Helen Babbs
Published by Sick of the Fringe