Mad House – Ambassadors Theatre, London

Reviewer: Christine Stanton

Writer: Theresa Rebeck

Director: Moritz von Stuelpnagel

Daniel is dying, holed up in his home with a hospice nurse, trying to fight the inevitable decline. His son, Michael is tasked as his full-time carer – despite the long-standing animosity between them. Siblings Nedward and Pam, put on the expected airs and graces, but are only involved to get the most sizable chunk of their inheritance as possible, no matter the cost.

Theresa Rebeck writes with depth, the fantastically crafted characters and well-layered storyline making the 130-minute-long show go by in a flash. Each of the highly flawed characters is a despicable person, yet still engaging and likeable, each of them with clear motives for their personality traits or choices throughout the narrative. Getting the balance between dark comedy and touching drama is difficult, but Rebeck meanders through each scene so well that it never sways too strongly on either side.

The beginning of the first act is spent in the family kitchen, intricately designed by the talented Frankie Bradshaw. Daniel (Bill Pullman) and Michael (David Harbour) constantly berate each other, sick of their dual reliance and desperate for their forced family façade to end. When hospice nurse Lillian (Akiya Henry) arrives to lend a hand, she sees the complicated relationship in a way that only someone external to the drama would, sympathetic to both sides while forced to stay neutral. As Daniel’s condition worsens, he is forced to relocate his entire bedroom to the kitchen – much to the dismay of Michael, who now knows he’ll now never get a break, and can only hope that Daniel’s journey to the end is a short one.

The second act begins with the family home rotating on stage to showcase the porch typical of an American house in rural Pennsylvania for another brilliantly designed backdrop from Bradshaw. With siblings Pam (Sinead Matthews) and Nedward (Stephen Wright) bursting in and taking over, it quickly transpires that they are more interested in the house deeds than their dying father. The clock is ticking for Daniel and with family secrets being revealed, explosive personalities colliding and childhood rivalries coming to a head , the Mad House is a chaotically toxic environment for all.

The acting is flawless. Pullman and Harbour are big names and highly experienced, bringing their well-honed abilities to match the high quality script. Matthews is only present for the second act, but her presence on stage is unforgettable. The loud, domineering bully is clearly plagued with her own issues, more sensitive than she first appears, which Matthews portrays incredibly. Henry and Wright are remarkably similar – both in their roles and their demeanour on stage. They provide stability and assertiveness, while also having a gentle, softer approach during the moments it’s required, again reinforcing the faultless balance of the show.

Mad House perfectly captures the imperfect, complex family dynamic. The dark humour, realistically emotional storyline and top tier acting from the entire cast combine to create a must-see show.

Runs until 4 September 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Dynamic Drama

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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