"Rumbustious Fare from the Madhouse"
by Diane Samuels for remotegoat on 10/09/10

I'm still recovering from the disturbing experience over twenty five years ago of going to a production of "Marat Sade" by Peter Weiss in which the inmates of a Napoleonic French asylum, under the direction of the infamous Marquis, perform the murder of revolutionary leader Marat in his bath. Unhinged and unstable, the performers broke free from the stage and took over the theatre, holding the audience hostage. We were climbed over, grappled with and threatened. And so I approached "Bedlam", Nell Leyshon's new play for the Globe with a degree of apprehension. The audience was not entirely safe from participation but fortunately the emptying of a chamber pot onto us or being called up to mount a bucket felt more like panto than Theatre of Cruelty.

Set in eighteenth century London this production is very much in the spirit of Rude Britannia where the doctors, with their cruel treatments like leeching, cutting and enemas, are the butt of the jokes far more than the inmates. The central story is that of a young countrywoman May, played in a more serious vein by Rose Leslie, who has had it tough and lost her love rather than her senses, and begins when she is admitted into the eponymous madhouse. Jessica Swale directs a large company that transforms itself into many different guises as the action darts across London from the Pleasure Gardens of Vauxhall to the gin sodden streets not so far from where the Globe now stands. Whilst this is certainly rooted in fact, and many of the songs authentic pieces of the period (including the very crude "Oyster Nan"), it is a dramatic take that echoes those cartoons of rakes and tarts, vice and debauchery, portraying a world at large in which madness rules way beyond the walls of the asylum, and certifies some of its most feeling citizens as crazy.

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