Diary of a Madman

The Edinburgh Fringe has recently seen a surge in theatrical adaptations of Nikolai Gogol’s short story Diary of a Madman. This very year, the Traverse Theatre is presenting a version currently playing to critical acclaim. As far as commitment to the performance is concerned, surely very few will rival this particular production at the Institut Français d’Ecosse by Compagnie des Perspectives and performed by solo actor Antoine Robinet. However, despite sustained and often believable presentations of overwhelming despair, the adaptation of Gogol’s original text leaves much to be desired in terms of humour and social commentary, such fundamental features of the text.

Robinet’s performance confirms his abilities, and he might be better served by a more gradual progression of emotional heights.

Opening with Poprishchin slumped, head on his bed and body on the ground, surrounded by what is to be assumed are pages of his titular diary, it is clear that we are not to be presented with a gradual decline of an originally sane figure, but rather that we will encounter his various diary entries from a retrospective viewpoint. Clearly the agony of recording them by hand has become too much for Poprishchin, and in perhaps a kind of therapeutic manner, or in an attempt to make sense out of the chaos inside his mind, he chooses to relive his memories through the spoken word. This interpretation does limit the way in which the character is developed, leading to there being little difference between Poprishchin at the beginning and at the end.

In such an adaptation as this, where parts of the text have been excluded to reduce the piece to a running time of little over an hour, one might expect particular themes to be far more concentrated than they are here. Yes, Robinet’s wide-eyed, clearly pained character does convincingly present a man on the brink of madness, but we have lost much of the sense of the reasons for this decline. What appears to be Poprishchin’s strained exertions to form each individual word lose some of their impact, sustained as they are throughout. What results is a rather disappointingly one-dimensional delivery, as Robinet is left with little further to go to express his character’s increasing angst.

There are still some moments of humour, as the text itself, with talking dogs and delusions of royal grandeur, cannot help but raise a laugh. It is just unfortunate that this humour is not as effective in creating later sympathy for a very likeable character as it might be. Robinet’s performance confirms his abilities, and he might be better served by a more gradual progression of emotional heights.

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The Blurb

Without a doubt Nikolaï Gogol's greatest piece of work. Ours is a very peculiar hero: this low ranking civil servant in the Tsarist bureaucracy reveals his stupefying fate through his Memoirs, which grow stranger with every line. We find out that he speaks dog fluently, can prevent stellar collisions and is destined for the Spanish throne! This incisive dark comedy 'is performed by a young actor with promising debuts' (Radio France). For the first time in Edinburgh following its success in France (Avignon Festival, Guichet Montparnasse Theatre). ‘Amazing, disturbing and moving' (TouteLaCulture.com).

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