Based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol, Robert Bowman’s one-man show charts the unravelling of 40-something civil servant Poprishchin in 1830s Russia. Sharpening pencils for His Excellency, he is schoolboy impish when describing the beautiful object of his affection: “Her dress was white like a swan, and when she looked at me it was like the sun shining - I swear it.”
First performed in Chapter in 2011 as a development piece funded by the Arts Council of Wales, Diary of a Madman was created using the Michael Chekhov Technique and sees Poprishchin move down a scale of emotions from naively quixotic through a spat of psychosis giggles - can dogs write? Could this handwriting be described as ‘doggy’? Could he be the next King of Spain? - to a dark and surreal place. Illness meant that Bowman was croaky and performing under par to start with. However, the audience warmed to his initially endearing character and laughs came fairly easily. Directed by Olivier Award nominee Sinead Rushe, Bowman utilises the imaginative, simple set (designed by Sarah Beaton) well, pulling up the planks of his palette stage to reveal paper sculptures and other ephemera to pin to his mobile chain of charms.
As Poprishchin tunnels further and further into his madness, scribbling and scrambling about for his own ‘crumbs of happiness’ the audience disengage, and the show begins to feel more like an acting exercise rather than a complete piece. Despite wonderful lighting (Katy Stephenson) and an eerie score (Roland Melia); this jumbled epistolary production doesn’t manage to find its way back.