“Theatre Utopia has finally produced a play that I like”: a review of Method in Madness

By - Tuesday 25th October, 2016

The third time’s the charm for Theatre Utopia and Jonny Rose

Method in Madness.
Photo by Entita Theatre, used with permission.

They did it. They finally did.

After being suckered by Stan and left bemused by Black Beauty in Irons, Theatre Utopia has finally done it – produced a play that I like.

Life imitates art, art becomes life

Method in Madness takes place in London in 1941, and follows a young Hollywood starlet (described in the programme simply as ‘the actress’) struggling to play the role of Ophelia. Yet, it is so much more than a piece of contemporary writing; incorporating Shakespeare’s text, dance and music Method in Madness serves as an innovative look at one of his most beloved heroines.

As the actress (the character, not the actress playing the actress!) struggles to bring the role of Ophelia to life she turns to method acting, having been encouraged by a fellow actor to free Ophelia from her “prison in print”. As the title suggests, it is the actress who becomes imprisoned in Ophelia’s role.

Her method acting – or is it madness? – is eerily echoed not only in her changed performance in the 1941 narrative but in the incredibly choreographed dance sequences, with the simple three moving mirrors that comprise the set, as well as the ensemble, showing her grip on reality slipping, her mind disintegrating and spiralling out of control.

Physically demanding

As plays go, I was immediately struck at just how physical Method in Madness was. This was certainly no Orton-esque farce, yet the production required the ensemble to roly-poly, barrel roll over each other, and contort themselves wildly, as they simulated passages of time, travel overseas, and even becoming furniture to be sat upon.

Three mirror frames were onstage at all times, and were periodically moved around in concert, as the other actors looked through them at the actress. Ultimately, this provided a neat device whereby the actor on the other side could ‘reflect’ back the Ophelia character which the actress was trying to embody.

The actress’s descent into madness was accompanied by sterling performances from a hammy and predatory director, an avuncular older actor, and an irascible younger actor whose boorish demeanour revealed a man plagued by his decision not to fight in the war like other men his age. Their scenes of shallow thespian concerns and arguments over how ‘the Bard’ wanted his characters realised were punctuated by moments of the actress’s southern belle mother reading letters aloud, praying that her daughter would come home safely.

A feast for the eyes – and ears

It’s notable then that the true star of the show wasn’t even in the room. The music of Laura Marling is absolutely gorgeous – and I say this as someone who has little time for acoustic music or angsty songstresses. Lush and affecting, her sonorous tone and delightful choice of chords created a welcoming soundtrack that permeated the entire play.

The true star of the show wasn’t even in the room

It’s no surprise that Marling’s music was so perfectly interwoven into proceedings: certain scenes actually saw the actors miming the lyrics suggesting that in fact, some – if not all – of Method in Madness was inspired by her work.

Yet Marling’s music wasn’t the only sound that moved me during the performance. Periodically, the practising performers would be interrupted and forced to stop by air raid sirens – ominously conjured up from the mouths of actresses sitting on the edges of the stage. Serving as a reminder that although art and theatre may offer momentary escapism for both the audience and the performer, cold hard reality always has a way of breaking in.

Method in Madness was a triumph. Not just for the Entita Theatre troupe that wrote and performed the play, but also for Jamal Chong, the owner of Theatre Utopia in Matthews Yard, who continues to bring critically-acclaimed fringe and independent theatre to Croydon. Theatre Utopia is an inexpensive treat that is keeping independent theatre alive in Croydon. Support it with your custom.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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