DIARY OF A MADMAN & DISCORDS
after Gogol. after Shakespeare.
Warwick Arts Centre (Studio) To 22 January 2011.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 January.
These ways madness lies.
Where better for Fail Better Productions to celebrate 10 years than Warwick Arts Centre, on the campus where they began? Though the longer of these pieces itself began at London’s Rosemary Branch Theatre in 2007. It looks good, with Jonathan Broke’s civil servant, stripped–down to underclothes, imagining office-life while moving between floor-level bed and small desk, confined within two narrow, sawn-off walls.
A clock ticks in six-beat groups, developing demented whines and whirrs at each entry, then speeding into hyper-mode as the character’s mind disintegrates. Broke catches moments of assurance and contempt; yet the script too often seems a story recited.
As the lights finally fade, a face is seen staring down at the madman from a small, high window – a look forward to Discords. Here the company lives up to its name, taken from Samuel Beckett’s terse expression of unhopeful resilience.
Nearly half-a-century after Polish critic Jan Kott’s Shakespeare Our Contemporary, which found an equivalence between King Lear and Beckett’s nihilistic Endgame, this brief piece (though, at 25 minutes, an epic in late-Beckett terms) explores madness through phrases from Macbeth and King Lear.
Its main Beckett reference is Play, where a light pings onto three heads, peering out of urns, provoking them into speech. Here, picking up Diary’s closing image, faces are seen in small compartments in walls now wider than in the first piece, and three tiers high.
There are striking images – smiling Goneril and Regan, with perplexed Cordelia between and below them – as phrase are repeated, and swapped between performers, in Beckett-like blankness, then attenuated in tone, with lengthened vowels, then in hurried desperation. Key verbal images are the negativity of Lear’s “No”/”Nothing” and the (r)ejection of Macbeth’s “Out” – as in “damned spot” or “brief candle”.
Play-like again are moments where the voices mumble invisibly, slight light on the walls, and, in a reference to Beckett’s Not I, a shadowy figure slowly becomes apparent, finally providing another link between the two halves.
If the young performers’ vocal technique can be limited, they have commitment and understanding, making for an absorbing, original marriage of two great playwrights.
Diary of a Madman
Performer: Jonathan Broke.
Performers: Ben Edmunds, Oliver Hayes, Lucy Katz, Thom May, Soraya Nabipour, Tom Syms, Zoe Walshe.
Director: Jonathan Heron.
Designer: Nomi Everall.
Lighting: Dave Thwaites.
Music: Toby Knowles, Edward Lewis.