Diary of a Madman

Fail Better do very well indeed with this Gogol production

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  • Of the two major Gogol adaptations at this year’s Fringe, the leaner by far is not the new challenger – Gecko’s flabby ‘The Overcoat’ – but the returning champion, Fail Better’s ‘Diary Of A Madman’. Not having seen the 2007 production, I can’t comment on how much it may or may not have changed, but certainly there would now appear to be little cause for tweaking this fat-free, claustrophobic descent.

    All alone, Chris Tester’s civil servant Axenty Ivanovich sneers and mutters, a bitter man within a darkening garret. Rarely looking in the audience’s direction, and possessed of halting cadence and half-blank eyes, he conveys the unnerving impression that’s he’s genuinely talking to himself, not projecting for a crowd of unseen onlookers. Nonetheless, the real strength of the production – and Gogol’s text – is that despite everything, you don’t quite see Ivanovich’s slip into insanity coming.

    The transition between narcissistic inability to grasp his own insignificance and full blown psychotic episode is disarmingly, disturbingly smooth, yet when it happens, it’s clear as the room is murky that this was the only possible outcome. As the date on his wall calendar spirals away to April 43rd and Ivanovich shrieks in outrage at the insolence of his ‘courtiers’, it all feels chokingly plausible.

    'Diary of a Madman' played at the Underbelly, Cowgate, Edinburgh.

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