Mad as Hell
Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed – 9th February 2018
“strong performances from all, coupled with an understated script full of humour and optimism”
Jermyn Street Theatre is one of those tiny studios with limited space. The ambience can make or break a show very quickly. If the audience is not on board then it’s off putting to actors literally toe to toe with the front row. Equally If any of the acting isn’t up to par there is nowhere to hide and the people in the seats will lose interest quickly. This evening the play hits the mark from the start and hooks in the auditorium from the beginning.
The show is based on both fact and fiction; the words of latter-day movie star Peter Finch and his third wife Eletha Barrett themselves, with ‘imagined’ dialogue from writer Adrian Hope and director/writer Cassie McFarlane, based on the hell raising past of Finch and the social scandal of an interracial marriage at the time. Finch is a well known British/Australian actor who finds love with his ‘Ellie’. A romance that alters his lifestyle, calms him down and creates a supportive partnership, and is the thing that brings him the most happiness. Yet, a gradual accumulation of outright racism, ignorance and even ‘well meant’ prejudice fires him up and makes him ‘Mad as Hell’, and becomes the emotional source for his final and greatest film role.
Much of the play centres on Jamaican Eletha’s charm and charisma, and her influence on Finch. Vanessa Donovan brings this strong independent woman to the stage with a great portrayal of a determined, passionate and clever Ellie. Stephen Hogan seamlessly brings the womanising, hard-drinking Peter Finch to life with his sharp wit and unapologetic ego, yet convinces the audience he wants to be a better man, husband and father.
Alexandra Mardell manages to both shine as the brazen wannabe Debbie, and yet fades into the background as hesitant maid Daisy. I had to look closely to be sure it was the same actress!
The set is very simple. Different locations insinuated by the position of the props and the music between acts. These scene changes were done deftly by stagehands but I did find the prolonged blackouts, albeit with nostalgic music (from sound designer David Beckham), a bit of a distraction.
Luckily with strong performances from all, coupled with an understated script full of humour and optimism, this play is a funny, bittersweet but timely reminder of the past. It allows glimpses into the racial tensions across the globe in the 60s and 70s, through a couple striving for harmony at home. A lot has changed in half a century. Too much remains the same.
Reviewed by Joanna Hinson
Photography by Eddie Otchere
Mad as Hell
Jermyn Street Theatre until 24th February 2018