Madness Sweet Madness is an original piece of writing by Georgina Tremayne, a Barcelona-based playwright and director who recently won the New Writing Award at the Leatherhead Drama Festival. Exploring themes of loss, violence and mental illness, it is centred on the relationship between Vesuvius (Hunter Tremayne) and his sister-in-law Grace (Wendy Lee Taylor), who are living together and struggling to cope following the disappearance of Charlie—his brother, her husband. Sleep deprived by Grace’s antics, Vesuvius considers an act of violence, until the arrival of two strange officers raises the issue of whether this has already taken place, and it transpires that Grace may have in fact been the aggressor all along rather than the victim. Performed in front of a sell-out audience at Tinta Roja, this hour-long dream-like sequence left me strangely captivated, albeit slightly confused.
Tremayne and Lee Taylor generally complemented each other well in their respective title roles as Vesuvius and Grace. Tremayne’s gloomy demeanour was apparent in his more static performance, contrasting effectively with Lee Taylor’s perceptible sense of nervous energy, which she successfully conveyed through a series of nuanced gestures (such as fidgeting, biting her nails and self-hugging). Although there was a degree of subtlety to both their performances, lending some emotional weight to their struggle, the more frantic and animated facets to their characters could have been more drawn out so as to provide some light and shade to their portrayals.
The standout performances of the evening, however, came from Dermot Flanagan and Julia Fossi as they fully embodied the eccentric, imposing and, quite frankly, absurd personas of Whispering Walt and Officer Maarten. As two unorthodox authority figures—a combination of investigators, psychiatrists and social workers who have an almost supernatural level of access to information—it appeared that the partners-in-crime were a figment of Grace’s imagination. Playing the sprightly Whispering Walt, Flanagan leapt across the stage with infectious energy, and his menacing physicality saw him tower over Vesuvius and Grace to further accentuate their sense of isolation. Fossi’s portrayal of his Dutch comrade, Officer Maarten, was perfectly rigid, straight-faced and sarcastic, creating a character akin to Geraldine McNulty’s misanthropic Mrs Raven from BBC sitcom My Hero. Personally, I would like to have seen a more stylised performance from these two characters, as adding a farcical dimension to their physicality would have contrasted fittingly with the naturalistic portrayals of Vesuvius and Grace, overall contributing to the question that lingered throughout: “Who exactly is the mad one here?”.
Tremayne’s script seemed to offer limited narrative thread but, considering that the play is clearly a conceptual exploration of ‘madness’ itself, perhaps that was the intention. Aesthetically, she achieved a distinct Pinteresque feel to the production through the minimal set and simple lighting design. However, my main gripes would have to be the unnecessarily slow transitions between scenes, as well as the inconsistent employment of American accents, which actually felt gratuitous given the play’s universal setting.
Despite these observations, Tremayne Theatre Company have created a challenging piece of theatre that takes great care in its sensitive handling of delicate themes. Georgina Tremayne should be commended for writing a play that dares to exist in the strange hinterland between reality and imagination, and it is refreshing to see creative minds come together in Barcelona to provide the city with a night of intriguing, albeit slightly obscure, theatre. The cast rose to the challenge admirably and, given it was received with rapturous applause and enthused whooping from audience members, I would encourage you to attend their next two shows in nearby Sitges and Vic to see what you make of it for yourself.
(Madness Sweet Madness is showing in Sitges on March 5th and in Vic on March 18th. Tickets are available for €10, with 50% of the fee donated to local charity initiatives. For more information visit www.tremaynetheatre.com).