Writer: Robert Burton
Director: James Yarker
Reviewer: Nicole Evans
The Anatomy of Melancholy is a 17th century self help book written by Robert Burton that consists of 1,424 pages of somewhat argumentative observations on the causes, symptoms and cures for melancholy. Primarily referred to as a medical text, the content ranges from Burton’s own observations, to a random collection of quotes from various historical physicians. From this description alone you don’t need to be familiar with the book to realise that adapting such a work to successfully bring it to the stage would be quite a challenge. Stan’s Cafe were presented with this challenge back in 2002 and 10 years down the line decided they could not put off accepting it any longer and this production was born.
Fittingly laid out like the front of an old fashioned university lecture, the simple set is dominated by a series of easels and flip pads on which the topics of the evening’s arguments are written. Aside from the timely flipping of paper and a few minor adjustments the set remains unchanged throughout all three partitions and in the intimate studio we quickly begin to feel like part of the furniture. This is quite fortunate, as with the play clocking in at nearly 3 hours running time (with only a short interval) we certainly feel the need to make ourselves at home. Even the guidance notes in the programme forewarn that we are in for a lengthy and in-depth ride and also advises those out of their comfort zone to persevere with the language and information they are about to be privy to.
The story, if you can call it that, is told by four actors- Rochi Rampal, Gerard Bell, Craig Stephens and Graeme Rose. With no parts as such to act, we are presented with an on-stage discussion of the book and a humorous illustration of its theories and observations. Speaking as if the book itself is a script that is just being finalised and revealed for the first time, the four deliver the content to the audience while lightly debating parts of it between themselves. The actors are all both entertaining and educational, and succeed in keeping our interest in the often long and complicated subject matter. Managing to put a humorous take on the more serious theories as well as the downright bizarre, while connecting to the modern relevance of the observations Burton writes of, all four perform with a great confidence and convince us of their knowledge of the material. The length of the script alone outlines their talents, with the majority of the play being monologue, simply remembering the vast amount of lines each has is a feat in itself. What’s more, even with no set rôle to play, by the end of the performance they have all managed to develop a clear character which you cannot help but be fond of.
The Anatomy of Melancholy is certainly not a production that everyone will be able to enjoy, it is hard going at times and involves plenty of brain power to keep up. However, if you can get past the Shakespearian style diction and long content you may find it not only makes perfect sense, but also serves as a cure for your own melancholia, whether or not you realised you had any in the first place.
Reviewed on 15th March 2013