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Dublin Fringe Festival 2018


Story by Una McKevitt. Directed by Cathal Cleary.

Genre: Comedy, Contemporary, Fringe Theatre

Venue: Abbey Theatre Peacock Stage


Low Down

Madhouse smartly plays with the dichotomy of lunacy and sanity: a man paints a white wall white, in measured strokes, while a gorilla throws chairs about…whose mad anyways?  A biopic romp, based on the life of comedian PJ Gallagher; it’s just ridiculous enough to be true.


Bobby’s just ten when his ma moves in six new tenants with schizophrenia. This madhouse is a whirl: pills are flying, a car’s gone missing and someone will get left behind at Disneyland. The show reveals that normalcy is an illusion and adolescence is bizarre. Surreal and nostalgic, Bobby recollects the tenants like a sanguine confessional.

The tenants’ physical and mental states are a tragicomedy. One patient is barking mad, he literally believes there is a dog barking in his stomach. The mother has a hard time clipping this man’s hair, “she has to time the snips between barks so she doesn’t stab him in the head.” There’s freedom to laugh when Bobby’s adopted parents are painted with the same eye to detail, quirks and faults of everyone else in the house.

His mother, a central figure and the only other human on the stage, is overbearing, glib and often shows more understanding for her tenants then her own son. His father is a drinker with his life decidedly unsorted. Everyone is imperfect, idiosyncratic – real.

Memory is not naturalism, memory is the emotion, the feeling, the focusing on specific details. Memory is noticing the madhouse among us. This is expertly achieved by staging reminiscent of Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints. The characters use the whole stage, they change levels, they endow props with layers of meaning. Even the exits are plied with some car wash-esque exit lane. It’s thoughtful and well crafted. At the beginning of the show the walls are washed in purple light, the windows are a faint gold. As the light shifts, the walls turn white, the windows purple. The world has shifted, perspective has shifted and Bobby has grown.

He is a man now, with new insecurities, with new options and his own ability to define and investigate his narrative. Madhouse is not a collection of people in one house, it’s Bobby’s mind, a memory palace containing defining moments that are incongruous with society’s carefully dictated sanctions on sanity. Watching, empathizing and gaining understanding – between laughter and its more serious side, it becomes clear – Madhouse is a profound comedy untangling the psychosis of growing up.