Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nelly Bly adapted by Douglas Baker. The Brockley Jack Studio theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London SE4 to 2 July 2022. 4****. William Russell.

Lindsey Huebner gives an amazing performance in this account of how a would be journalist Nellie Bly persuaded the editor of a newspaper to take her on. It was 1887 and women then, as for many years to come, were sent out on female things, or at least what men, who ran the newspapers, considered were suitable. Nelly was having none of that. She ended up spending ten days in an insane asylum to write an expose of the dreadful treatment women sent there received. The ten days proved harrowing. As for the play’s message, it is sobering. Exposes can lead to change but they seldom lead to anyone paying for what they have been doing. The buck just gets passed. It is nobody’s fault. Lessons will be learned, changes will be made, and life will carry on perhaps a little better than before. It all rings terribly true still.
The production makes use of headphones so while we see Nellie we only hear those she encounters. Nellie is seen behind a scrim on to which images are projected of those she meets, almost cartoon like and all the more horrific for the platitudes they utter. The script must have been incredibly difficult to master because as an inmate Nellie repeats the same demands to meet a doctor, to claim she is sane time and again and the actress has to combine her performance with those of the recorded off set voices while also manipulating some of what gets shown on the scrim, if not all – technically I have no idea what is going on.
It is in every sense a quite remarkable production, a first for the Jack and this journey into sharing the trauma Nellie underwent is very well worth making. It is 90 minutes that challenges attitudes that still persist and its closing scene when images of the women she met who were not saved from the hell that the asylum proved to be are very powerful.
Born Elizabeth Cochran she began her career on the Pittsburgh Dispatch before persuading the editor of the New York World to give her a job, the first one being to investigate conditions in the asylum on Blackwell’s Island. Later on she was to make headlines trying to travel round the world in 80 days – she didi it in 77 – and had a long career as an investigative journalist exposing working conditions people faced in New York factories and institutions,, dying in 1922.
Nellie Bly: Lindsey Huebmer.
Voice cast: Fiona Kelly, Sherni Olaniran, Catherine Addy, Rob Peacock, Edward Spence.

Director: Douglas Baker.
Lighting Design: Jonathan Simpson.
Sound Design: Calum Perrin.
Video Design: Douglas Baker.
Movement Director: Matthew Coulton.

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