Adapted from Nikolai Gogol’s short story of the same name, Al Smith re-sets Diary of A Madman in contemporary Scotland. The main protagonist, Pop Sheeran makes his living from the inherited trade of restoring Forth Rail Bridge. It takes him a whole year to complete the repainting, by which time he is ready to start over again.
Sheeran is proud of this family heritage, which he is keen to see continue, as we understand his eldest son, Henry, used to work with his father. Henry is not physically present at any moment in the play, we know early on that he is “unwell”.
Filling in for Henry in his absence is new recruit Matt White (sic), a research student in material sciences, sent by the University of Edinburgh to test a new kind of paint, designed to last over 50 years. As Matt and Pop’s daughter Sophie start to develop romantic interests in each other, a conversation between White and Sheeran begins to shed light on Henry’s absence.
Sheeran refers to an unnamed hereditary condition for which his son is hospitalised, and tells White that his own condition is managed with medication.
The play’s pace accelerates proportionally to Sheeran’s “descent into madness” as he fears White’s feelings for his daughter will make the newcomer the “man of the house” and that the buying of the bridge by a Qatari company was in fact engineered by the young Englishman, marking the beginning of a new conflict between the two countries.
Not yet clearly diagnosed, Sheeran’s conversations and developing relationship with a soft toy puppet of Greyfriar’s puppy, as well as his increased obsession with his relationship to William Wallace, suggests that he may have been living with a form of schizophrenia. Sheeran ends the play (before his hospitalisation), being Wallace himself, also pointing to the literary rich Histrionic Personality Disorder.
Beyond the piece’s staging of madness, and the possible triggers to moments of crisis, Haydon’s take on Smith’s play clearly points to how socioeconomic background affects our experiences of mental ill-health. For the Sheeran family, this hereditary ill health is tangled in nationalism, class and their role on the global market. (LB)
Diary of a Madman is on at the Traverse Theatre at various times until August 28th. Wheelchair Access, Level Access - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/diary-of-a-madman-1
Free (public domain) Diary of A Madman by Gogol: http://www.feedbooks.com/book/6464/diary-of-a-madman
University of Cambridge research article exploring the relationship between social class, mental health stigma and mental health literacy: http://hea.sagepub.com/content/19/4/413
American Public Health Journal article on unemployment and mental health: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.94.1.82
American Psychological Association article on Histrionic Personality Disorder: http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2007-00410-008