A play by Michael De Cock
Directed by Carme Portaceli
With Koen De Sutter & Maaike Neuville
After the novel by Gustave Flaubert


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Gustave Flaubert’s novel about a rebellious doctor’s wife is over 150 years old, but the themes of Madame Bovary are as relevant as ever. Inequality between men and women still persists. As a society, we still struggle with centuries-old, stereotypical patterns. Emma Bovary is a victim of those, but she also rebels against them.

Michael De Cock rewrought the novel for the stage and Catalan director Carme Portaceli brings Madame Bovary to life in a contemporary adaptation that emphasises the story’s persistent relevance today. Maaike Neuville plays Emma Bovary and Koen De Sutter her husband Charles. 

Madame Bovary: A bomb in world literature

French author Gustave Flaubert threw a veritable bomb onto the world literature scene with his Madame Bovary. The story, of an adulterous doctor’s wife who takes her own life, was considered so shocking in 1856 that it was seen as an attack on French society and even led to a court case. Emma Bovary sent shock waves through France and the world. Flaubert’s book heralds the invention of the modern novel.

He spent five years writing Madame Bovary. He wanted to write a book about ‘nothing’, but it became a book about ‘everything’. A book about the unsatiable desire to be loved, about the patriarchy, about (impossible) love, adultery, life and death. Emma Bovary refuses to settle for the limits society has created for her and keeps resisting, against her better judgement – even if it means her downfall.


Desperate Housewife of  feministische activiste?

Emma Bovary marries her doctor with the highest of expectations: a Disney-worthy fairy tale. But before long, her boring life starts to dig in like her corsets. She devours stacks of books to escape her banal reality. Nothing is exciting, her husband doesn’t meet her expectations. She starts looking for more, for lovers, for kicks. She lives above her standing and spends more than she has to escape from her provincial life.

Carme Portaceli: Emma is a rebel and an activist. She fights against her boring, banal bourgeois existence and stands up for her own happiness. The girl power inside her is on an unrelenting quest for Happiness. She exhausts lover after lover. She chooses action, Sturm und Drang, the explosion – she refuses to suffer passively and to implode in depression. She fights for her sexuality. She chooses her masculine side.


“I knew immediately:
this is our Madame Bovary.”

- Carme Portaceli


The corset and 19th-century expectations… or is it 21st-century?

Play the piano, be perfect, sois belle et tais-toi, be as society expects you to be, give your life but suppress any life you have left inside you. That was the 19th-century expectation of someone like Emma. What about today?

Maaike Neuville: I suspect, and recognise within myself, that women today still feel like they have to perform a variety of different roles concurrently: the loving wife, the caring mother, the sexually active lover, the socially intelligent host, and – especially today – the successful career woman, to name only a few.


A continuous battle against perfection 

But what is perfect happiness? The plastic Disney fairy tale that Emma was led to expect as a little girl? The capitalist version of perfect romance, instated by the patriarchy?

Carme Portaceli: Emma Bovary struggled with that fairy tale back then, as do women today. Society’s views and expectations of femininity. And perfect masculinity is equally ingrained in our genes. We battle against images we have completely internalised – so in fact, we are locked in battle with ourselves. Emma keeps fighting for her ultimate desire: the desire to be whole.

Maaike Neuville: I believe there is true beauty to be found in looking at ourselves and embracing even the wryest, darkest sides of ourselves from a realisation that we aren’t excellent, we aren’t perfect, we aren’t Übermensch – but we are human.

In the press

"Regisseur Jaco Van Dormael herwerkte de. theatervoorstelling tot een eigenzinnige televisiefilm maar de directheid van Neuvilles monologen en Portaceli's regie komt beter tot zijn recht voor een livepubliek."

De Morgen


All videos are available on Vimeo. (Under each video is a download button.)


You can find the credits here.

Live recording 

Live recording on demand via saskia.lienard@kvs.be (programmers) or sebastien.parizel@kvs.be (press).


Sébastien Parizel
0478 92 09 82

​​Saskia Liénard
​​0496 55 19 92

Catherine Vervaecke
02 210 11 57

Ella De Gregoriis
02 210 11 45