Diary of a Madman

The fevered delusions of a man in love make for compelling theatre in this one-man show.

Well before Ozzy Osbourne used it as an album title, Russian writer Gogol wrote a short story on a clerk’s descent into abject humiliation.

And it’s quite a plunge we witness. So though it sounds dark and forbidding it’s performed so expertly that you’re never overwhelmed by the character’s despair.

It’s superbly acted by Robert Bowman who manages to draw us in to the life of a self-important St Petersburg bureaucrat whose chief role seems to be the sharpening of pencils for a bigwig.

He falls for the bigwig’s daughter many years younger than him. A man in love is barely rational and one second he’s howling like a dog on heat, then softly speaking of the raptures of love he feels.

It’s a physically and emotionally demanding role for one actor to sustain, but Bowman manages to switch the contrasting tones of his emotions extraordinarily well.

He gabbles madly in the height of his obsession, slows down and then loses control as the madness deepens. It’s a highly skilled, remarkable, 70-minute performance by Bowman who barely stops talking, ranting and fantasising while careering across the set all the way through.

Afterwards, I couldn’t help feeling that Ozzy must have read the book.

Well worth seeing when it goes on a national tour next year.

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A Provincial Life

Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.
National Theatre Wales, best known for Michael Sheen’s The
Passion in Port Talbot last Easter, likes to take imaginative leaps
and  has drawn one of the UK’s top playwrights to his home city.

Bringing director Peter Gill back to Cardiff to
stage his 1960s play pays off refreshingly.

Gill draws on Russian writer Chekhov’s stories of life in a
provincial backwater. Is he also drawing parallels with the
Cardiff of his youth? Surely, he is. And the visible austerity
on view also seems to chime with the age.

Starchy, stiff-backed society is in chaos and polluted by class
hatred. The portrayal of Chekhov’s Russia is uncanny.

Having lived in that neck of the woods, Chekhov’s melancholy
mood of 1890s Russia has in no way changed for the masses.

Corruption is rife, drunkenness, duplicity and despair
are still scourges of society – there’s a sense that there’s a
bottomless void of unending pain. The famous Monty Python ‘We
had it hard when we were young’ sketch could still almost pass
for reality.

It’s all vividly and cannily re-created by an excellent cast
who give us prim, stuffed-shirt ‘pillars’ of society, dreamers
and kooky crackpots in glorious abundance.

If all that sounds a bit heavy, well hey it’s Russia, where
life’s never been a picnic (unless you’re an oligarch). And
it’s oddbod characters formed by that society who capture your
interest.

So while a melancholy mood is created, A Provincial Life casts
a magical, fascinating spell. There’s vroom in the gloom.

Gill concludes that even when life appears to be meaningless,
small, insignificant acts do make a difference.

So, it seems, if you live in Dullsville, whether it’s Russia or
the Rhondda, there’s always hope.