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A CurtainUp London Review
The introductory first act sets up the abuses and terrible treatments: mustard blisters, leeches and purging, then thought to have assisted the mentally ill to overcome their sickness. A backward physician, Dr Carew (Jason Baugham), ill treats his patients. He makes money by exhibiting them to the public who pay a penny to look at the lunatics so there's plenty of vulgar sexual gesturing and in yer face sexuality. I found it really disturbing to watch, not at all funny or amusing although there was plenty of laughter from the audience.
We meet May Garnett (Rose Leslie) a beautiful country girl with wild auburn hair who has gone mad after her boyfriend Oliver went to sea (Danny Lee Winter). A pastoral ballet scene set in a garden, to the tune of "An English Country Garden" introduces us to Laurence (Sam Crane) a selfish, vain poet whose pregnant mistress, a white faced girl, Stella (Lorna Stuart) has been committed to Bedlam after being abandoned by her lover. Laurence's companion is Gardenia (Finty Williams) an independent and spirited woman of means. Sean Kearns is a scary Bedlamite whose sexual advances on all these pretty woman inmates are frightening. The voluptuous Ella Smith is a bawdy girl and gin seller who Dr Carew mauls sexually while neglecting his ladylike wife Annabel (Barbara Marten). It is the advent of a new governor, Dr Maynard (Phil Cheadle) which will see far reaching reforms in the second act.
The first act feels overly long but much of this is necessary to set up the second act innovations. A scene set in the gardens at Vauxhall shows us what else passes for entertainment with the famous dancing bear. A member of the audience is hauled up onstage for bleeding, laxatives and a bath as in the tradition of pantomime. However much is redeemed in the Second Act with Dr Maynard taking charge and two of the villains ending up as in-patients in a more humane hospital. One happy ending sees a woman movingly restored to her child, played by a puppet held by two actors.
The ensemble cast work very hard to create the characters with songs from the period. A painter is the sinister murderous inmate no-one wants to be locked up with. I like Jade Williams' Nancy a religious maniac especially when she dangles down on a rope from heaven with a leg of gammon to distract the painter.
Music is played on a variety of kitchen pots and pans as the inmates beat out an incessant rhythm. The costumes are beautiful as are the period hairstyles, this is the age of Hogarth, except where, as lunatics, the hair has to be unkempt. The arches at the Globe have been filled in with prison bars and prisoners are locked in their cells for most of the day. If you do go and see Nell Leyshon's play, make sure you are feeling fresh and bright for this almost three hour spectacle. As a part of the new regime Dr Maynard tells us, "A man's passions are close to madness."
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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