Bedlam, The Globe Theatre
Mimi ON Sep 10, 2010 AT 9:22 am
by Nadia Beaumont.
‘You came to see the lunatics’ says Tom O’Bedlam, once a rich man and now cast into the depths of a drunken and gin obsessed London. Nell Leyshon’s vibrant play is the first written for The Globe by a female writer, and follows a number of patients committed to Bedlam hospital for the insane. Based on the real Bethlem Hospital which admitted patients from 1357, the play takes us into a world where women are second class citizens at the mercy of their men, often put away for depression after childbirth or to make them disappear, and the truly ‘ mad’ are seen as incurable and there for the entertainment of a paying public.
Mental illness is never an easy subject to tackle yet Nell Leyshon handles it brilliantly. Expecting something dark and disturbing I was surprised to find that the play is speckled with a crackling wit which lightens the tone. The frequent scenes of drunkeness add to the hilarity and keeps up the pace while the shocking images of the ‘treatments’ where leeches and bleeding are used, provide a stark contrast.
The cast are all strong but certain performances stand out and are worthy of mention. The comic moments are only allowed to flourish due to the beautiful and at times hilarious delivery of Dr Carew’s son (Patrick Brennan) and Sam Crane’s pompous and eccentric fop, the poet Laurence. Sophie Duval’s shadowy nurse Sal, who carries out the treatments, takes the play to the audience by bringing a hapless member onto the stage to be ’treated’ and Ella Smith’s underground gin-dealing drunkard is not easily forgotten. Jason Brughans’ portrayal of Dr Carew brings great weight to bear to a part which goes from total control and gravitas at the beginning of the play to madness by the end.
Nell Leyshon has written the play for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and therefore both the writing and the staging lend themselves perfectly to this unique theatre experience. Accoustics are as they would have been 400 years ago but the language rings out from this skilled cast and the mix of music, love, romance, madness, despair and comedy are worthy of Shakespeare’s legacy. The audience is made to suffer water and confetti being thrown and were even spat on during the play - reason enough to invest in seats rather than standing in the pit.
Like the scene made famous in Hogarth’s painting ’Gin Lane’, Bedlam truly rules with chaos, despair, and confusion the order of the day. Under raucous scenes of fairs, freak shows and treatments there is a wider message about human behaviour which is timeless. Who should be the judge of who is mad, and is a little madness a sweet and beautiful thing?
Photography credits: photos by Keith Pattinson. Top photo from left Patrick Brennan (John), Rose Leslie (May) and Sophie Duval (Sal). Middle photo from left Finty Williams (Gardenia) and Ella Smith (Phyllis). Bottom photo from left Sam Crane (Laurence) and Finty Williams (Gardenia).