Directed by Matthew Gould
Pros: Elchin Afandlyev is a world-renowned writer. He has the ability to condense a lot of thinking into a 90 minute play, and some of his musings are inspired.
Cons: The script is very literary and as such it is a bit of a challenge.
Our Verdict: It’s not every day of the week that you can go and get an insight into the affairs of Azerbaijan. With the exception of this week.
|Courtesy of Tristan Bates Theatre|
First thing to be said about Elchin Afandlyev is that he keeps himself busy. Very busy. He has written over 100 books, and is the deputy prime minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan. I am going to have to start setting my alarm clock a good half hour earlier. Oh, and when he finds himself at a loose end he turns his hand to writing plays.
As the title may suggest My Favourite Madman is quite off the wall. In fact, one of the opening scenes is a little overwhelming. It is a state of the nation play in an absurdist form; much of the absurdism is highly inventive. The nation is Azerbaijan, of course, and the action takes place in its capital Baku in 1995. This is 4 years after the country’s independence from the Soviet Union. I’d say that it’s a representation of the collective unconscious of its people. Not that I’d bet your house on it. At the time they were trying to deal with their having just become a constitutional republic.
The Professor and The Nurse are searching for the doctor’s favourite madman, who has escaped. The several candidates all work for a newspaper. In the paper’s office the editor tries his best to bring them round to seeing sense. There is a Literary Critic who is suicidal. He spends a disconcertingly long time with a telephone cable wrapped round his neck. All of us in the audience were tempted to go and untangle him. Then there’s The Political Columnist who thinks he has finally found the truth. The truth is… the grass grows. And there’s The Secretary who for reasons unknown believes herself to be a pheasant. She keeps on flapping round the stage and on and off of it. Rumour has it this actress can’t stop from flapping in her sleep now.
Each of the characters speaks their own form of anti-logic on some aspect of Azerbaijani society. As is often the case with anti-logic it seems filled with logic. To be sure I’d have to sit down and study the script. Before that I’d have to brush up on my Azerbaijani history too. Some of the commentaries are wonderful in their mad playfulness. An employee’s absence from work is blamed upon meetings in outer space (either upon Venus or Saturn) with the long-dead Lenin, who to this day is still feeling a dislike towards the Armenians. Yet more entertaining is a conspiracy theory section about how the KGB have achieved world domination. They are only pretending to have disappeared. Bill Clinton is a KGB general in a most brilliant disguise; Fidel Castro is not all he appears to be; a new language is being spoken in Mongolia. Plus the editor is accused of having been an 18th century Russian Azerbaijani and a descendant of The Prophet. Indeed he had been the Great Circumciser.
Regarding the performances they are all strong and played with total commitment. The writing has a mad energy to it. This is fed upon with healthy appetites. However I was a little less sure about the style of direction. All the actors deliver their lines with a kind of staginess. This gives a quality of farce which somehow doesn’t quite work. Tom Kitney’s lighting brings atmosphere to the black box space. He makes fairy lights, in particular, look surprisingly good. Finally, there is an orchestral soundscape from the prize-winning composer Memed Ansari. If I’d been wearing a hat I’d have taken it off to his talent.
All in all My Favourite Madman is a complex essay on cultural heritage, fractured identities, and nation formation, but from time to time the script was beyond me.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
My Favourite Madman runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 13th April 2013.
Box Office: 020 7240 6283 or book online at http://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/myfavouritemadman.asp