Wednesday, 7 September 2016
Review Diary Of A Madman
Diary of A Madman
By Al Smith
Adapted from the short story of Nikolai Gogol
I'm Not All Right Jock
Kids can drive you mad. But it doesn't help when generations of menfolk in your family have had a steady, never-ending job painting the Forth Railway Bridge and a penchant for inhaling the fumes of methylated spirits while they work. And you're also on prescription drugs which dull your instincts. And life feels as if you're jumping from plot to plot taken from literature, cartoons or live-action movies.
Al Smith's loose adaptation of Gogol's classic short story sets it squarely in contemporary Scotland where Pop Sheeran (Liam Brennan), a child of the 1960s' baby boom, follows the family trade. Yet his fragile grip on reality, so far kept in balance by wife Marve (Deborah Arnott), is threatened by both family and outside forces.
Staged in the round at Notting Hill's Gate Theatre Christopher Haydon pacily directs the 100 minute piece. Designer Rosanna Vize has created a square dais stage surrounded by partial pipework cum scaffolding and part of the bridge's framework with paint tins and brushes suspended above. The twenty scenes are sharply delineated by Mark Howland's lighting and Alexandra Faye Braithwaite's sound design.
Fed a strong dose of black humour, we enter the world of the Sheeran family, Pop, Marve and their daughter Sophie (Louise McMenemy). They live twenty minutes away from Edinburgh, along with Sophie's best friend Mel McCloud (Lois Chimimba), whose mother is the bridge administrator, now under Arab ownership, and whose father, with whom Pop grew up and now apparently with pretensions to Scottish nobility, sits on the Queensferry Fair committee.
Their lives are disrupted with the arrival of posh Matthew White (Guy Clark) aka Matt White, studying Chemistry at Edinburgh University, including the new long-lasting glass flake epoxy paint. Apparently the son of an engineer knighted by the Queen, Marve offers him a room, rather like the shop steward's wife and the new graduate recruit in I'm All Right Jack, little knowing that daughter, Sophie, about to go to university herself, has already met him in the Union Bar ...
This is a blackly humoured riff on patriarchy and a post Second World War generation ambushed by industrial and media globalization and off and online technology while still driven by the struggle for Scottish independence and competition in education and the job market.
It's a tour-de-force for Liam Brennan as the history-obsessed disorientated Pop Sheeran who loses his bearings in this brave new world where even the paint isn't what it used to be. There's a certain inpenetrability sometimes with the accents but the story remains clear. At the same time, it feels a little too long in the second half of the play and could have done with a tighter script.
Nevertheless it's a clever idea with cheeky, likeable work from McMenemy and Chimimba as the two teens aching to break out of the small town circle, as well as a strong performance from Arnott as the beleaguered but capable wife and an impressive debut from Guy Clark. So it's an amber/green light from your Sassenach reviewers TLT and her wee automotive coracle.