Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 16 (1985)
It is a breathtaking evening at the Fortune Theatre, in the sense that we come to share the actress's evident inhalation of the novel and exhalation of it - all in two hours for us.
It can hardly be described as breathtaking entertainment since "The Mill on the Floss" has, until its tragic end, all the characteristics of its kind least suited, you may think, to theatrical adaptation. So the achievement of Margaret Wolfit in translating George Eliot's supposedly autobiographical novel to the stage (or to the needs of a solitary performer) is the more remarkable.
For it introduces everyone who seems to matter, manages to keep them nattering to us as spectators and, also, shrewdly, retains the author's tone of voice and sense of humour whenever it can.
If we do not succumb to the performance as to the novel, it is partly because the actress must keep on changing roles (she can juggle with characters so as to keep four people in our minds at once) and also function as narrator.
Of necessity, we are vouchsafed no more than a tactful skimming, an ingenious compression, of this picture of 19th century provincial life among the lower middle classes for a brother and sister like Tom and Maggie. We need not worry if Miss Wolfit brings Maggie to more sympathetic life than Tom. In the circumstances, he suffers from the cramped demands of the stage, compared to the novelist's space.