Diary does it well
Diary of a Madman
The Street, Canberra
Season ends 16 June
REVIEWED BY CHRIS JOHNSON
Numerous stories, plays and productions have depicted characters who suffer varying degrees of deteriorating mental health. They haven’t always got it right or done it well. Perhaps one of the best such portrayals is to be found in Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of a Madman.
Farcical and funny, it is also dark and serious – and one of the very earliest accounts of schizophrenia as a story’s central theme.
Adapted for the stage by David Holman and developed by Geoffrey Rush and Neil Armfield, this 19th century Russian short story is riveting as a play in a small and intimate theatre.
Diary of a Madman is halfway through its season at The Street in Canberra. Staged in the smaller of The Street’s two rooms (full house is an audience of 55), the action is close and compelling.
Lead actor PJ Williams is spellbinding as the troubled Aksentii Poprishchin, a clerk of the ninth grade desperate for recognition – and then just desperate.
The mark of a good actor might be if he or she can hold an audience’s attention for, say, ten minutes of monologue. Williams has the audience glued to him throughout the two-hour play, most of which time he is alone on stage animatedly bringing his diary entries to life.
There is not one moment of boredom for anyone watching Williams portray this confused character.
When Williams is joined on stage it is by the stunning Lily Constantine, who plays a few roles – from Poprishchin’s unattainable love interest, to his maid, to his asylum inmate.
Constantine is just as thrilling to watch. Her acting (English, Russian, Finnish) is outstanding as she presents a hypnotic mix of sympathy, kindness and revulsion her characters feel towards the protagonist.
Brilliantly directed by Caroline Stacey, and on a magnificent set, Diary of a Madman is funny, sad, poignant, and powerful – just what we want from great theatre.
(Pic by Mike Jackson)