I am easing myself back into the reviewer’s role, so it is with appreciable relief that I can refer you to Fringe Guru’s guidelines for awarding four stars: ‘This is a stand-out show, with one or more memorable and distinctive features…’ And Method in Madness, written by Alex Doble and Katie Dunstan for graduate theatre company ENTITA, has hot wheels on the ’stand-out’ bit and cool music on the turntable.
The play revolves at speed around Ophelia in Hamlet. Or rather, around a young actress (Katharine Hardman), who's rehearsing for Ophelia and in a dreadful whirl. She’s been brought over to London from Los Angeles, and is desperate to “find” her Ophelia before the opening night; her director snaps “Don’t try, be Ophelia,” but like King Lear he should know that that way madness lies. The fact that this is London in January 1941, and that German bombs are giving explosive meaning to “To be or not to be?” is also a downer.
The dance dynamics are exacting, and it's tight ensemble work all the way. Performers are paired, very often one either side of a full-length glass, to represent their conflicted selves; the actress looks straight at the Ophelia that she would mirror, but cannot speak. She twists and turns in her ‘bed’, supported by the company. Her mother’s voice, trying to get through from the States, breaks up and is finally gagged. There is heartache when a suitcase spills letters of anguish that were never sent home, but through all these inward moments, the physical theatre is never less than fiercely engaged and expressive.
And director Jamie Woods has made the perfect soundtrack, with revelatory use of the work of singer-songwriter Laura Marling. But there is a flip side; some manicured dialogue, some excess. I got left behind by a zeppelin raid from the 1914-18 War, and there are moments when the choreography is so exuberant and so dispersed that there is too much to take in. There is one shocking moment when the music, on a fragile note, should have been blown apart by the sound of bomb blast.
But at the end of the day, “Will he not come again?” sings the sweet, mad Ophelia. Yes. I would.