Living Pictures have proved that all you need to make great theatre is an intriguing story, a team with great attention to detail and one actor with awe-inspiring charisma.
Although set in 1830’s St Petersburg, Diary Of a Madman is a brilliant dark comedy that anyone could relate to. Shattered dreams and constant disappointment plague the sad clown of a man who is sharing his tale and although he may be pitiable and somewhat pathetic you can’t help but want to join him in some of his fantasies where dogs can talk and there’s always a happily ever after.
Robert Bowman is spellbinding as minor civil servant Poprishchin, whose main responsibility seems to be sharpening the pencils of his boss. He leads a tragic life; looked down on by everyone and hopelessly infatuated with his boss’s daughter he leads a lonely and disillusioned existence.
From the very beginning it is clear to see he is mentally unstable. There’s a constant feeling of pressure building leaving the audience waiting for the inevitable moment where Poprishchin’s mind will finally snap. When he discovers that the woman of his dreams finds him repulsive (via love letters that he is convinced were written by two dogs) it is clear to see his world completely crumbling around him and it’s not long before he has contrived a new life for himself – he is of course the King of Spain. How didn’t anyone notice sooner?
The wooden pallets that make up the entirety of the set resemble both a cage and a lifeboat lost at sea – sadly appropriate for this unhinged man. Helping to move the story forward various props are discovered underneath the planks to be examined and enjoyed.
The only other decoration is a single flickering light bulb hanging from the ceiling to represent Poprishchin’s unrequited love. Whenever he speaks of his beloved it is easy to picture her standing onstage as his gaze is so intense, wishing her into physical existence.
An original score by Roland Melia and skilful sound design by Tom Raybould add more depth to this stripped back production. Just like Poprishchin’s mind the sound begins harmoniously, peppering his narration but by the end of the production the harsh, jarring music is overpowering and drowns out his speech.
The clever use of technology extends to the lighting design by Katy Stephenson. Subtle changes in the tone of light allowed the small space to seamlessly become the civil servant’s office, his home, a Russian street and an imagined boudoir. This fine attention to detail in lighting and sound completed the production, helping to fill the stage and give Bowman something to bounce his terrific performance off.
Director Sinéad Rushe was keen to explore the Michael Chekov acting technique in this performance. This approach, otherwise known as the ‘psycho-physical approach’, prioritises impulse and imagination, showing the psychology of the character through the actor’s movement and gesture. This expressive approach was perfect for Bowman whose physical and dynamic performance perfectly articulated the inner workings of an unsettled mind.
This excellent production is currently on tour and continues at the venues below: