Mad House by Theresa Rebeck. The Ambassadors Theatre. Tower Court, London WC2 to 4 September 2022. 2**. William Russell.

Bill Pullman and David Harbour are terrific as a father heading for his deathbed and his disaffected son, a one time inhabitant of an insane asylum, now his carer in this dreadful comedy with pretensions by Theresa Rebeck. Act one is basically a rather poor script for Steptoe and Son as Pullman, a nasty old horror with, he thinks, cash somewhere, taunts his son played by Harbour, who has come home to look after Dad following a spell in a mental asylum to which he had committed himself. Add a sensible hospice nurse (Ankiya Henry) sent asses the old man’s needs, a couple of tarts brought back by Harbour to cheer everyone up, and his other son Nedward (Stephen Wight) and as black comedy it sort of works. But in act two Pullman is off stage for most of the time while his two sons and his daughter (Sinead Matthews), clearly a chip off the old block, bicker over who will get his money – it becomes a totally different play. The laughs have also run out as they bicker over his will and Dad, suddenly mobile, decides it is time to die – with a little assistance. The issues matter and there is no reason for not examining them in a black and bitter comedy, but this is not that comedy. Apparently this is Mad House’s world premiere, presumably held here on the grounds that if you put in a Hollywood name – Pullman is a substantial actor on screen and stage – then the tourists will go and if it doesn’t work nobody back on Broadway or in Hollywood will be any the wiser. It is a bit like those films Michael Caine makes for the money.
Rebeck appears to think she has something worth saying to say about the issues raised, but on the evidence of this dreadful and badly constructed affair it is questionable. There are laughs but they are cheap ones. However, the cast work hard to keep it going. Pullman and Harbour create a credible pair, nasty dad and damaged son, Henry makes the nurse, the one appealing undamaged character on stage, warm and likeable, while Wight and Matthews make the other two children splendidly repulsive. But this is a leave at the interval play if ever there was one.

Michael: David Harbour.
Daniel: Bill Pullman.
Devon: Hanako Footman.
Lillian: Akiya Henry.
Pam: Sinead Matthews.
Skylar: Charlie Oscar.
Nedward: Stephen Wight.

Director: Moritz von Stuelpnagel.
Set Designer: Frankie Bradsaw.
Costume Designer: Tilly Grimes.
Lighting Designer: Prema Mehta.
Sound Designer: Beth Duke.
Composer: Isobel Waller-Bridge.
Intimacy Director: Crista Marie Jackson.
Voice and Dialect Coach:Hazel Holder; Katie Wilson.

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