The Mill on the Floss | OpticNerveLeft – Zahra Newman. Zahra Newman & Grant Cartwright. Photos – Pia Johnson

Oh, this is gorgeous! OpticNerve Performance Group has created an unashamedly beautiful production – an adaptation (by Helen Edmundson) of George Eliot’s 1860 novel, The Mill on the Floss. George Eliot, author Mary Ann Evans who adopted a male pseudonym to ensure credibility at the time, penned huge stories of intellectually curious sensitive young women constrained by the gender norms of their era; The Mill on The Floss draws heavily on her own life.

Our heroine, Maggie Tulliver, sacrifices her own fulfillment to the prideful needs of the men around her beginning with her father (the tortured Mr Tulliver played by James O’Connell) and brother (Grant Cartwright). Maggie is portrayed here in three incarnations by Maddie Nunn, Zahra Newman, and Rosie Lockhart. Maggie is obsessed by the awful fate of women damned as witches, something which would have existed in living memory at the time Eliot was writing, and which sadly resonates today. 

The actors double up to create the sense of an oppressively judgmental village environment. The Tulliver family’s mill on the river Floss is lost through Tulliver senior’s ill-advised legal wrangles with a neighbour, and lost too, is Maggie’s intense childhood attachment to her brother. Maggie’s sensitive suitor Phillip is played by Tom Heath, while George Linghard gives us a passionate Stephen. Luisa Hastings Edge plays Maggie’s mother, well-meaning but conventional. The story ends with Maggie and Tom finally reunited. Terrific performances all round and it must be noted how well all the performers carry off the midland accent, which can sound comical if not handled well.

Director Tanya Gerstle has pulled together an eloquent and dynamic theatrical version of Eliot’s novel, where tension and attraction between characters often play out wordlessly via choreography and song. The emotional currency on stage works pays off in its own right and reflects the everpresent river flowing through the story. The internal struggles of the various characters are expressed with imagery, tableaux, movement, voice, music, and few props are made terrific use of. 

The Mill on the Floss came about through the Theatreworks Access All Areas Residency Model – and what a fine outcome. The Mill on the Floss is a gripping two hours, an ambitious, transporting and lovely work, delivering a sensual and lyrical experience. If anything’s worth going out in the cold and rain to see, it’s this.

OpticNerve Performance Group presents
The Mill on the Floss
by George Eliot | adapted by Helen Edmundson

Directed by Tanya Gerstle

Venue: Theatre Works | 14 Acland St, St Kilda VIC
Dates: 28 Jul - 13 Aug 2016
Tickets: $35 – $26

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