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Review: Madman @ Lichfield Garrick

I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know Gogol’s famous Diary of a Madman but hey, that’s what the Festival’s for, having new artistic experiences. Madman is a wonderful one-man play written and performed by the engaging Gareth Nicholls and succeeds one hundred per cent.



The great thing about the story is its simplicity. Here that’s told in a kaleidoscopic series of sometimes tiny scenes. At first we meet Axenty Ivanov Paprishchin, a likeably ordinary young man – a bit shy, a bit hopeful, tongue-tied in the presence of the girl he admires, the daughter of his employer, fretting about his menial job in a large office, in short a believable sort of chap. His feelings are common to everyone – sometimes he feels overlooked, that’s he’s worthy of better things, that he deserves his share of happiness and success.

But gradually we see his worries become obsessions, recognisable behaviour becoming irrational and desires becoming delusion. At first it’s funny, especially given the wonderfully inventive nature of this gold-plated script, but gradually laughter dies on the lips as poor Axenty slips into full–blown madness, his failures tipping him over the edge into delusion until he believes himself to be the King of Spain but whose kingdom is actually no than the common asylum. Now we see a terrifying portrait of genuine mental illness in which a once-touching imagination knows no bounds and the straight-jacket is a necessary physical restraint available for a poor man who has lost all reason, and because we easily identify with him early on, we see how it could also happen to any one of us. Creepy.

Wonderful vignettes from this play lodge themselves in the brain. The shoes worn on the hands which become a delightful pair of talking dogs, which while comic can later be seen as an early symptom of mental illness. The moment when Axenty becomes the object of his own obsession simply by donning a white glove and the sleeve of a dress. The moment when a filthy lavatory pail becomes a throne. This is a great piece of theatre.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.