By reinterpreting a classic, Company O taps into a rich vein of social commentary while staying true to the original material. The narrative of Diary of a Madman isn’t so much a descent into madness as it is a total surrender to the self delusion that prevails in the indignantly bitter impotence of a powerless man, who believes that he is owed something greater.
Andrew O’Connell’s portrayal of the titular character Poprishchin is remarkable. His inherent belief in himself is on display in every movement, as he recounts the day’s adventures. The tone of his monologues is perfectly bitter, and envious, and arrogant despite his clear shortcomings.
As in the source material, Diary of a Madman is presented as a series of diary entries. The recurring theme of the dates preceding each entry, both of which become more divorced from reality over time, bookmarks Poprishchin’s surrender to an increasingly delusional world view.
The performance is accompanied by Jose Giraldo’s flamenco guitar and the story weaves in the flamenco dance of Francesca Lizza’s Sofia—both of which may seem incongruous at first to those unfamiliar with the source material. This serves to give the sense that, from the very first moment, there’s something askew in O’Connell’s character, based in St. Petersburg as he is.
Apart from a few stilted scene changes, where the audience was genuinely unsure if the production was over, the pacing was effective. The character of the Mental Health Professional (Justine Cerna) was largely superfluous, perhaps even robbing the closing scenes a little, obscuring the character’s sense of isolation and distracting from O’Connell’s performance rather than enhancing the scene.
The long suffering house-servant Tuovi (Lauren Beeton), however, absolutely steals the show. Initially presented as light comic relief, and to balance O’Connell’s sour, envious gentleman, it becomes swiftly apparent that Beeton is a prodigious talent. Wringing every drop of humour and emotion from what is, at first reading, very much a one-note character, Beeton builds layers of character development with brief but regular appearances on stage. Her final scene is a remarkable display of foreign language acting that needed no translation to impart an emotional body blow.
Company O's Diary of a Madman presents audiences with a marvellous take on a piece of classic literature, brought to life through some exceptional acting and with a clear affection for the work.