Mad(e) at Pleasance Theatre
We are all made not mad – this is the central idea that permeates throughout the 70 minutes of this high-octane stylistic show. Written by Sean Burn with direction by Yasmin Sidhwa for Mandala Theatre Company, Mad(e) offers a unique and timely examination of male mental health. Phrases such as “man up” remind us of the toxicity that still prevails in our world today. By inviting the audience into the orbits and private thoughts of various male characters, the idea that “boys don’t cry” and the detrimental ramifications of this archaic attitude are engagingly explored. Grief, trauma and sexuality are all placed under the microscope; these themes are handled sensitively and authentically, thanks to input from boys and young men from around the country during the creation of the play. Burn and Sidhwa evidently share an ardent interest in their subject matter and the production is elevated further by a cohesive cast, who more than deliver.
Burn’s writing is lyrical and poetic and veers off in unexpected directions. Although the narrative is delivered with aplomb by the ensemble, it is easy to become temporarily lost and at times a little confused in terms of what is actually being said. Not all the language used is accessible, but perhaps this artistic choice only highlights the perplexing nature of the world and our attempts to survive it.
Some characters and their stories are given more time than others: we first meet Kei (Max McMillan Ngwenya), who sleeps rough in a graveyard; Ash (Lex Stephenson) caught his friend’s suicide on video and wrestles with both guilt and grief; X.o.dus (Nelvin Kiratu) thinks of his grandmother often and questions why his father never shows him any affection. Binding the group and their stories together is Beira (Clarisse Zamba), a shape-shifting entity who teaches them about self-love. All four understand the assignment. There is some raw and exciting acting talent on display here with the cast capturing the fragility of their roles and presenting some genuinely moving moments.
With choreographed movement sequences by Marie-Louise Flexen, this is a highly physical production that evokes some impressive imagery to emphasise its points. A smattering of laughs is welcomed by the audience but ultimately this is a serious piece that demands attentive investment from its spectators. While the themes are undoubtedly relatable and relevant, at times their presentation feels heavy-handed. There is too much to process and absorb in a relatively short space of time, which risks the key messages of the play becoming muddled or lost all together. The talent on and off-stage is not in question but perhaps this feels more like a blueprint of a great play, as opposed to the finished article. Still, Mad(e) encourages important conversations and gets viewers thinking about certain issues that are all too easily pushed aside, and it does so in a way that only live theatre can.
Photo: Stu Allsopp
Mad(e) is at Pleasance Theatre from 14th March until 18th March 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.