Mad as Hell at Jermyn Street Theatre
Racism at the Academy Awards is not news anymore, but in the America of the 1970s it was unthinkable even to discuss such evident discrimination.
With Mad as Hell, Cassie McFarlane and Adrian Hope masterly put together a play that draws both from real memories and fiction, retelling the love story – set against all the odds – of Peter Finch and Eletha Barrett. The Australian actor, escaping from two previous failed marriages, finds a sweet and caring partner in the Jamaican woman who will steadfastly accompany him in the last 12 years of his life. God-fearing and proud, Eletha is a redeeming presence for Finch, supporting him up until the end. She bravely faces all the prejudices around the couple, even on the night of the Oscars, where the black woman receives her husband’s posthumous award, even though she was initially prevented from getting on stage.
The theatre piece takes its time getting to a good pace. Especially at the beginning, it is crucial not to reduce Jamaican folklore only to stereotypical sensual dances. A good amount of care, thus, has been paid to the choreography, curated by Ryan Francois. The actors move smoothly, creating an enjoyable atmosphere with the rhythm of Caribbean music.
Stephen Hogan is superb as Finch. Although the actor doesn’t get the chance to deliver the famous deranged monologue from Network, the performance of which is credited to be the reason for Finch’s Oscar nomination, he injects a great energy and fury into his character.
Alexandra Mardell is brilliant in her biting role as an ambitious and unscrupulous lover, Debbie. In one of the initial scene, the nasty and rude discussion between the wanna-be singer and the film star meaningfully contrasts with the following silent and tender meeting between Peter and Eletha.
The show inevitably focuses on the issue of skin-deep privileges and stardom snobbery. But beyond the social debate, the production exalts the value and strength of the woman behind the great man. Unbending to the malicious rumours, the female protagonist is a powerful partner. The radical change of Finch’s behaviour – from careless and adulterous to thoughtful and kind – is also highlighted, but not exalted as a prodigious conversion. The combination of down-to-earth elements and the wonderful performances of the cast makes Mad as Hell a real treat and quite a moving Hollywood romance.
Photo: Eddie Otchere
Mad as Hell is at Jermyn Street Theatre from until 24th February 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.