There is a bumper crop of quality theatre in Brisbane at the moment, including Matrix Theatre’s Diary of a Madman. Their original season at the Brisbane Powerhouse was cut short in 2022 due to the floods, but they are thrilled to be back, presenting a reinvigorated staging in conjunction with PIP Theatre.

Based on the 1835 short story by Nikolai Gogol, Diary of a Madman was originally adapted for the stage by David Holman and was expanded by Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush for their celebrated 1989 production. The 2010 revival won multiple Sydney Theatre and Helpmann Awards.

Diary of a Madman centres around an everyman crushed by the bureaucratic system, a common theme in Russian literature. Low-level clerk Aksentii Poprishchin is alone in his St Petersburg apartment and has fallen for his boss’ daughter, Sophia. His only real companionship is his landlady’s Finnish maid, Tuovi, whom he looks down upon, and he tries to escape the hopelessness of his existence by writing diary entries. What ensues is a tragicomic descent into madness.

Director and one-half of Matrix Theatre Michael Futcher has put together a riveting piece of theatre, with first-rate performances from each of his three cast members. Rowan Chapman was fabulous in the title role of frustrated bureaucrat turned madman Poprishchin. Chapman doesn’t spend much time offstage in this 90-minute one-act version, and the level of energy and commitment required is Herculean. In a performance reminiscent of Gary Oldman, Chapman goes there and somehow manages to keep his madness grounded in believability and relatability, in particular his neurotic actions as a writer where we see him passionately agonising over the perfect word.

Sarah McIntosh wears multiple hats both on and off the stage as Assistant Director, Sound Designer and Composer, plus three supporting characters including Tuovi plus cameos as Sophia and asylum inmate Tatiana. As Tuovi, McIntosh gives a grounded performance with impeccable comic timing, sympathetically portraying her ‘foreign’ character, who is learning English. The costume team, including Josh McIntosh, Jo Fraher, and Julie Leutton did a wonderful job. Sophia’s period white dress was especially beautiful and Poprishchin constructed a very clever regal robe from a bed sheet.

Rounding out the cast was Tabea Sitte in the uniquely unspoken role of Musician. Her expert instrumentations on the violin punctuated the comedy, drama and state of mind of the characters, making a unique and welcome contribution to the storytelling which is common in film but not often seen in the theatre. Additional sound designs by Sarah McIntosh and Salliana Campbell effectively underscored the unfolding drama.

Josh McIntosh’s set perfectly depicted a bleak 19th century tenement attic, complemented by haunting, coloured washes and atmospheric window lighting from Caleb Bartlett. The set was cleverly transformed into an asylum toward the end of the play with the final descent into madness.

Independent theatre continues to thrive in Brisbane and the Diary of a Madman season is long enough to catch and worth making time to see, with shows running until 1st June at PIP Theatre, Milton. You’d be crazy to miss it.



Photo by Jeremy Veenstra.jpeg