Review of Diary of a Mad Man
Written by Emelia Marshall Lovsey
Diary of a Madman tells the story of anti hero Pop Sheeran. For generations his family have been painting the Forth Bridge with pride, a job which takes so long that by the time he has finished painting, he has to start again. The problem is: there’s a new paint which lasts for fifteen years- if Pop uses it, he’d paint himself out of a job. Furthermore, a young Englishman studying engineering has come to stay with Pop’s family and caught the eye of his daughter. These combined forces cause him to start to lose his sense of personal, professional and national identity as well as his sense of purpose and with them he begins to lose his mind. Meanwhile his caring wife with the help of modern medicine and his beloved teenage daughter, try their best to keep him together.
This production of this play, despite its laugh out laugh moments, is fraught with tension. In a way, it echoes and draws similarities with Arthur Miller’s: A View From A Bridge. This play, written by Al Smith, despite its sheer brilliance, appears very occasionally at times as a little cluttered and sometimes difficult to follow. Though following a descent into madness is probably no easy thing. Either way, this is easily forgotten and forgiven due to the gripping nature of the story, compelling and captivating characters and impeccable quality that this production offers from start to finish. The play is in moments abstract and out there, which in another production could easily undermine the show; however in this case it is pulled off magnificently. This show is as slick and as sharp as a production you might find on at The National Theatre, a credit to the director Christopher Haydon and all the other creatives on board.
The talented cast of Diary of a Madman do an excellent job of telling this powerful story. Mel McCloud played by Lois Chimimba offers much needed comic relief. Louise McMenemy playing Mel Sheeran is a convincing teenager. Liam Brennan who plays Pop is the best thing to hit the stage since Mark Strong in a View From a Bridge at the Young Vic. He was nominated for an Offie for his extraordinary performance. He plays a character which an audience could easily find themselves disliking and yet he endears us to him as we find ourselves feeling great empathy for our anti hero. His stella and electrifying yet tender and sensitive performance is enough to leave any audience member feeling like they’ve been punched in the gut, ready to weep. It’s shows like this which are the reason we go to the theatre.
This moving production has a political undercurrent and begs questions about nationalism, identity, families, mental illness and insecurity. The story is enthralling. The direction and staging is on point. The acting is brilliant. This is a must see production, catch the London transfer from Edinburgh at The Gate Theatre in Notting Hill until the 24th of September.