Venue: The Drama Barn
The intimate space that the Drama Barn provides was all too suitable for this production that felt very relevant with its satire still ringing true today. The set design by Tara Geraghty and Wilem Powell was poignant. Underneath a union flag, that now holds even further negative connotations in our current post-Brexit situation, the larger than life characters were wittily portrayed. The occasional monologues were where the production really shone as the audience was given an insight into Jack, played by Christian Loveless, a schizophrenic aristocrat who has been left his father’s estate, and the characters around him who are so driven by greed that, in his madness, Jack seems the most sane at times. Directed by Samantha Finlay and Max Manning, this production had both moments of greatness and of mediocrity.
The characters were all too familiar which in some ways made the events seem predictable. An angry, manipulative half-brother (George Doughty), his neglected wife (Bethany Hughes) and goofy son (Harry Elletson) all fit the mould and their actions are never surprising. Nor are that of the bishop, funnily disturbed by Jack as he believes he is god, or the psychiatrist doctor who is more interested in the outcome of his experiments with Jack than actually curing him. Tucker the jovial butler, played by Ben Kawalec, stood out as he captured both the comedy and the empathy that the play attempted to capture.
Perhaps the comic relief, that seemed excessive at times, can be justified by the fact that the subject matter in itself would have been too serious without it, particularly nowadays with an increase in understanding of mental illness. Furthermore the aristocrat figures, although presented satirically, held views eerily close those still held by some today. Nevertheless it seemed that comedic value would naturally arise through Jack’s antics, particularly in the first half as the “God of Love”, and therefore the rest of the comedy became overkill. Just when the play seemed to be exploring issues of mental health or class divides this was undercut by comic relief which became stale by the end.
Jack’s demise in the second half into the god of the Old Testament, or Jack the Ripper, was well portrayed by Christian Loveless accompanied by the change of set with the cross removed from the back of the stage and replaced with Victorian items including skulls. Here Jack’s insanity is psychopathic and in this way he is more accepted. As the “God of Love” Jack seemed closer to Tucker, with his socialist drunken socialist ranks, but as Jack descends what seems to be further into madness he is more accepted by his upper class peers. His speech to the House of Lords is powerfully done as Jack faces the audience, highlighting our complicity in such a system.
In many ways the production worked and the comic relief was welcome, especially the meta-theatrical moments. However, the points that are most memorable are those that portrayed the seriousness of the issues that undercut the play. Such intimate moments between character and audience were what shone through overall and it seemed that more of this would have made the production more powerful.