Adam Somerset, Theatre Wales

A Diary To Be Remembered

diary-of-a-madman-portraitDiary of a Madman has been briefly seen at the Halliwell Theatre and Chapter. For the 2013 tour director Sinéad Rushe’s production has been refined. Sarah Beaton’s design looks, at the beginning of Robert Bowman’s seventy-minute solo performance, to be four wooden palettes with props. This physical ensemble is then put to inventive and clever use, before eventually becoming the palace for the self-imagined King Ferdinand the Eighth of Spain.

Roland Melia’s music has a hint of Bartok before its discordant accompaniment of Titular Consul Poprishchin into zones of delusion. Tom Raybould’s sound design presides over a palette of some subtlety. The tour continues to all points Welsh, Gwynedd to Gwent, and then takes up residence at Edinburgh’s Venue 13 for three weeks. There is many a one-actor performance in that bubbling August hub-hub but few to equal the all-round theatrical qualities that Living Pictures has brought together.

Living Pictures has an uncommon range of activity that spans performance and professional development, for both actor and director. The production is intended as an exemplar of the work of Michael Chekhov. But technique is always subsidiary to communication with the audience. Robert Bowman opens with a sucking-in of his upper lip and a nervous run of his tongue.

Poprishchin’s inner world begins in a state of defensive obsequiousness. In the rigid hierarchy of Imperial Russia he is emphatic about his own gentlemanly status. He obsessively sharpens the pencils in the office of his superior, a man whose hair is coated with perfumed grease. All the while, Robert Bowman emits the odd giggle and dog bark. Poprishchin’s bearing toward the canine world is strange indeed.

He loves the theatre, but not the critics ‘who do nothing but tear everything to pieces.’ His eccentricity begins its descent to pathos as his world takes in cows who walk into shops to ask for a cup of tea. The dates in his diary turn to the year two thousand and the month of Martober. He loses the normality of office routine and spends days in bed pondering over the question of the Spanish Succession.

The ending scenes are powered with a powerful rationality, but he is nonetheless downcast by the apparent traditions of the Madrid Court. Diary of a Madman is a compelling piece of theatre with a flavour that is wholly its own. It is the second Gogol work, and the second appearance of Living Pictures, in Aberystwyth in a matter of months. Both are cause for celebration.