LULLABIES OF BROADMOOR
by Steve Hennessy.
Venus at Broadmoor and The Demon Box.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED In rep to 1 October 2011.
3pm 24, 25, 28 Sept, 1 Oct.
7.30pm 22, 27, 29 Sept.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 September.
Madness and murder skilfully dissected.
These new plays in what’s now a Broadmoor quartet take events back to the early days of this asylum for the criminally insane. And of warden John Coleman, less inured to the ways of madness and capable of being caught up with the attractions of ‘chocolate-cream poisoner’ Christiana Edmunds. He’s partial to the sweets himself, as a means of distraction from the alcohol with which he struggles through his career.
Chris Donnelly’s dutiful warder sullenly makes the point no-one cares for him, because he’s not murdered anybody. And, as the powers-that-be investigate a cure for madness, Coleman finds himself facing disciplinary action if he steps out of line.
Madness infiltrates events, real or imagined, in these plays, and Ann Stiddard’s claustrophobic sets, taking up much of the Finborough’s limited spaced, emphasise the trains of madness. In Edmunds, and artist Richard Dadd, painting the Broadmoor theatre’s curtain in such detail the place can’t be used to put on plays. Dadd’s murderous visions summon up an Ariel who deludes and eludes.
Violet Ryder, light as Ariel, is flighty as Christiana. Chris Courtenay’s character, central in Wilderness, is here an aspirant apprentice to the reluctant Dadd.
And Chris Bianchi is impressive both as the asylum boss who falters from certainty to drink and disappointment when his curative ideas are rejected, and especially as Dadd, in whom quiet certainty on the surface hides anxiety and anger as imagined demons invade his mind. Dadd’s apparent sane confidence and authority can shift in a moment to unreasonable anger or the pained intensity of imagined fears.
Chris Loveless directs with as sure a sense as in the other pairing. And, mainly, Steve Hennessy’s scripts offer rich opportunities for actors and a rewarding experience for audiences, in their purposeful ambiguities and whirl of words and action. Though this pair, with its chronologically earlier events (the four are based on actual Broadmoor inmates) is recommended for viewing first, I saw them the other way round and that has its own fascinations – such as seeing warder Coleman more fully revealed; and, anyway, the ‘later’ plays were in fact written first.
Venus at Broadmoor:
John Coleman: Chris Donnelly.
Dr Beard: Chris Courtenay.
Dr Orange. Chris Bianchi.
Christiana Edmunds: Violet Ryder.
The Demon Box:
Dr William Chester Minor: Chris Courtenay.
John Coleman: Chris Donnelly.
Richard Dadd: Chris Bianchi.
Ariel: Violet Ryder.
Director: Chris Loveless.
Designer: Ann Stiddard.
Lighting: Tim Bartlett.
Costume: Rebecca Sellors.