The Theatreguide.London Review
Madness in Valencia
Trafalgar Studio 2 February-March 2010
Here's something you might not have expected to find among the roughly 2000 plays of Lope de Vega - what amounts to a Marx Brothers farce, a wild romp through unlikely plotting, verbal wit and imaginatively manipulated clichés of story and character, all presented with infectious high spirits. A touch of the classics has rarely been so much fun.
A man trying to escape from the law feigns madness to hide in a local madhouse, where he encounters a runaway heiress who was mistaken for crazy and thrown in there as well.
Of course they fall in love, but their courtship is somewhat complicated by the need to act crazy and the belief of each that the other actually is crazy.
To this we can add the jailer's niece who has fallen in love with the supposed madman, his friend on the outside who has fallen for the supposed madwoman, and the madhouse keeper who is very probably crazier than everyone else put together.
The translation by David Johnston nicely balances between a period and modern sound, and is loose enough to support deliberate anachronisms and hoary old jokes ('I looked for the King's sceptre, 'cept I couldn't find it'), to which director Simon Evans has added encouragement to his cast to mutter ad lib asides and flirt outrageously with the audience.
And it works, every plot twist taking the playwright deeper and deeper into a corner we eagerly await him finding some way out of - and in a delightful final twist, it takes him two tries at an ending to find it.
Meanwhile we can enjoy all the silliness and all the jokes along the way, along with warm performances by Kathryn Beaumont and William Belchambers as the moon-crossed lovers, with Laurence Fuller repeatedly stealing scenes as the half-mad jailer - and, indeed, everyone guided by director Evans to keep the fragile bubble of farce afloat.
And though the pace does occasionally flag, meandering when it wants to be frantic or slipping into naturalistic playing when it wants the stylised near-choreography of farce, director and cast get it exactly right far more frequently than they slip up.
Madness in Valencia actually has some serious things to say about the nature of madness, the power of love, and the difficulty of distinguishing between the two.
But don't let any of that bother you. Ignore the philosophy and just give yourself over to the fun.
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