Mad Man Sad Woman

The Space, London (****)

© Matthew Ferguson, Eva and Huinca, at last, seeing the light...

© Matthew Ferguson, Eva and Huinca, at last, seeing the light…

Juan Radrigán was to Chilean literature and theatre as Maxim Gorki was to Russia under the Tsars. Writing during the Pinochet era, Radrigán’s subjects were exclusively those on the margins of society, the dispossessed and the unheard.

Now Sue Dunderdale with translator Catherine Boyle – who together with Karen Morash form the company Head for Heights – have rediscovered one of Radrigán’s earliest plays, El loco y la triste (1980) and a beautiful, tender hymn of despair and ecstasy it turns out to be.

Like Gorki, Radrigán’s magnificent compassion extends to the forgotten and poverty-stricken, then in Chilean society but set within Amelia Jane Hankin’s breeze block square, it could as well apply to any of UK’s growing army of homeless and destitute – `all the men and women who can’t get in anywhere’ in Boyle’s wonderfully elastic, poetic translation – taken from the streets of London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and elsewhere.

© Matthew Ferguson, set by Amelia Jane Hankin

© Matthew Ferguson, set by Amelia Jane Hankin

Indeed elsewhere, `here, there, and everywhere’ turns up as part of Dunderdale’s background soundscape. Amidst Dominic Ashworth’s softly undulating Latin American guitars and Sam Cooke’s `bring it on home to me’, The Beatles gentle lullaby of love and need spreads like a musical counterpane over the growing affection between Sadie Shimmin’s gammy-legged prostitute and Bil Stuart’s dying alcoholic, Huinca.

© Matthew Ferguson, Bil Stuart as dying alcoholic, Huinca

© Matthew Ferguson, Bil Stuart as dying alcoholic, Huinca

Brought together by fate, in a house condemned for demolition, at first it’s a battle for survival between two headstrong individuals who snarl and bicker but who gradually over 90 minutes not only recognise in each other something they’ve always missed in their lives but the strength to finally take control of them.

© Matthew Ferguson, Sadie Shimmin, Bil Stuart

© Matthew Ferguson, Sadie Shimmin, Bil Stuart

In the end, there’s is a triumph but the way in which Radrigán brings them to this point is a delicate weaving of themes that cover not only the impact of poverty and forsaken dreams but becomes a delicate exploration of the life/death impulse working itself out in human lives.

Like Gorki’s The Lower Depths, it is the saddest of tales. But with a Latin American, Catholic twist, it also contains a kind of magic realism that lifts it beyond despondency. For Huinca, life as it is now lived is not worth the candle, but in the life beyond, `in the great house’, where everyone will be welcome, where there will be no poverty, death offers a picture of paradise.

© Matthew Ferguson, Sadie Shimmin as prostitute, Eva

© Matthew Ferguson, Sadie Shimmin as prostitute, Eva

Eva, in contrast, wants life. She wants a home, to give all the love she can feel inside her but has never found a place to put it. Home, as expressed through Huinca is a simple thing: it is anywhere where love and heart live and for Eva and Huinca it becomes a reality.

If in today’s terms, Radrigán’s vision veers a little towards gender stereotyping – male yearning to be `free’ versus female `nest building’ – such is the beauty of his writing as translated by Boyle, the luminous playing of Shimmin and Stuart and Dunderdale’s keen directorial eye that their journey becomes one of all our shared humanities. The power of Mad Man Sad Woman lies in its extraordinary immediacy and expression of feelings common to us all.

A `small’ play with a huge heart, it deserves a much longer, larger life.  Don’t miss.

Mad Man Sad Woman
By Juan Radrigán
Translated by Catherine Boyle 

Eva: Sadie Shimmin
Huinca: Bil Stuart

Director: Sue Dunderdale
Composer: Dominic Ashworth
Set & Costume Designer: Amelia Jane Hankin
Sound Designers: Candice Weaver and John Leonard
Lighting Designer: Rory Beaton
Casting Director: Ilenka Jelowicki

Produced by Karen Morash

Presented by Head for Heights

see also: @Head4HeightsTC

First perf of this British premiere of Mad Man Sad Woman by Head for Heights at The Space, London, June 20, 2017. Ends July 8, 2017.

Review published on this website, June 29, 2017