Little remains of Gogol’s original short story,
It’s an urgently needed show that may not answer all our questions, but certainly asks the right ones.
Smith, and director Christopher Haydon, skilfully let the social interactions between Matthew and the working class Sheeran family play out, letting the comedy emerge naturally as the social divide becomes increasingly obvious, and Pops’s world gradually collapses. Brennan delivers a barnstorming performance as the tragic Pops, going mad as he stays the same, using the same paint and paintbrushes as his father, in a world that seems obsessed with modernising. A special mention must also go out to Louise McMenemy as Pops’s teenage daughter, Sophie, and Lois Chimimba as her friend, Mel for their terrific comic performances as two girls who feel the world has nothing to offer them. This is a timely piece of work that slides from comedy to tragedy seamlessly, and simply offers a portrait of where we are as a country right now, rather than attempting to offer any easy answers.
The only issue with Diary of a Madman is that it runs the risk of conflating madness with Pops’ nationalism. By labelling Pops as the titular “Madman” for holding on to his traditional, old-fashioned values, one has to wonder if the production actually serves to give a voice to a whole section of society that feels they’ve been let down and left behind. It’s a tricky question, and each person will naturally have different responses, but no one can deny the bravery of the Gate and Traverse Theatre’s decision in asking these questions in the first place. It’s an urgently needed show that may not answer all our questions, but certainly asks the right ones.