Review: Mad Man Sad Woman
Image: Head for Heights Theatre Company
Sadie Shimmin - Eva
Bil Stuart - Huinca
Amidst the rubble of a condemned house, two desperate strangers realise they have been abandoned by their friends.
Fearful of what lies ahead, the two argue before starting to make a home from the surrounding junk.
As the bulldozers move in, they must decide to accept their fate or cling on to hope.
Head for Heights, a theatre company known for its innovative approaches to translation, presents this powerful play by award-winning Chilean playwright Juan Radrigán, translated by Catherine Boyle and directed by Sue Dunderdale.
By giving voice to the voiceless and finding beauty, laughter, and dignity in their lives, Mad Man Sad Woman is a play that demands attention for those forced to live on the margins of our society.
Note: contains adult themes.
Written by Chilean playwright, poet and novelist Juan Radrigán (1937 to 2016), Mad Man Sad Woman (or 'El loco y la triste' in its native language, if my research has found the correct translation) is a two-hander focusing on the relationship between Eva (played by Sadie Shimmin) and Huinca (Bil Stuart).
It's the morning after what has obviously been a night of heavy drinking when we discover this pair together in a shack which appears to be slated for demolition - perhaps in part to effect an unsympathetic state's desire to get rid of the poor who inhabit the area.
Eva is an ageing prostitute with a gammy leg and Huinca is a vagrant whose life-long, excessive drinking has resulted in his body succumbing to cirrhosis and is now expected only to live a few days longer.
Eva seems to have been forcibly elected by mutual acquaintances to look after Huinca until he meets his demise and passes over to 'the other side'.
But if the idea was for her to be some kind of benevolent, angelic nurse we don't recognise that in the opening moments as she directs numerous expletives at her male companion, claiming that he stinks and seemingly unmoved by his impending death.
However, the antagonism between this odd coupling starts to subside as they reveal their individual life stories and deeper facets of their personalities and motivations emerge.
Though the drama focuses on the dispossessed - or, to be more precise, those who have never had much in the way of material wealth or possessions - Juan Radrigán's work also speaks of conformists and non-conformists, as well as those who want to live a settled life compared with others seeking the freedom to live on the open road.
Bil Stuart's Huinca is very much the non-conformist idealist, a roamer who prefers to wander, whereas Sadie Shimmin's Eva is more of a conformist, drawn to home-making and a settled life, if only her financial circumstances would permit.
Paul McCartney's song 'Here, There And Everywhere' (credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney) lends a rather deliberate note of sentimentality to the soundscape, with Dominic Ashworth's fine composition adding appropriate melancholy to the atmosphere.
And Sue Dunderdale's thoughtful and sympathetic direction evokes well-contrasted, plaintive performances from both actors - who manage to sing pretty well too.
By coincidence, Mad Man Sad Woman finds many similarities with John Patrick Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea which is just about to end its run (on 24 June) at the Old Red Lion theatre (read our review of that show here).
Both plays were written at about the same time - in the early 1980s - and are two handers which focus on people whose experiences of life has been disappointing, to say the least, and who merely exist rather than living anything approaching happy and meaningful lives.
Touches of humour in Mad Man Sad Woman pepper a well-wrought production, offering a rare chance to see Juan Radrigán's affecting and still relevant work.
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