Black and White Rainbow specialize in irreverent and innovative versions of classic texts, most recently Molieres The Misanthrope at the White Bear Theatre. This production of Lope de Vegas 1590 play was first staged at the same venue last summer and now gets a well-deserved transfer to the West End.
In this screwball romantic comedy, boy meets girl in a lunatic asylum in Valencia. Floriano has taken refuge there to escape the authorities after fleeing Italy where he thinks he has killed a Prince in a fight, while Erifila has been forcibly imprisoned there after being found hysterical following the robbery and attempted rape of her fathers servant with whom she has eloped.
Neither Floriano nor Erifila are mad but at first each thinks the other is so, until love brings them to trust their instincts and reveals their true natures. However, complications ensue when Floriano becomes the object of attraction to the asylum directors daughter and her servant, while Erifila in turn is lusted after by the inmates, the doctor and Florianos friend who has helped him escape into the madhouse.
The plays main theme is that love is a form of madness, in which people are possessed by overwhelming feelings that make them behave irrationally, but it is also a way of releasing ones inner being from the prison of the ego. A mental asylum may seem an unlikely rom-com setting but uninhibited desires are let loose within this hothouse beyond conventional social norms in a sort of laboratory of emotions.
David Johnstons witty translation is very accessible for modern audiences. The show is framed by the device of the inmates putting on a play like an upbeat version of Marat/Sade with a brilliant ending in which the final scene is re-run so that no one is left alone. This fits in nicely with the idea of role-playing which recurs throughout Madness in Valencia.
Simon Evanss lucid direction makes the main storyline hurtle along at pace. There is quite a lot of knockabout humour in this feelgood farce in which the divisions between the sane and insane are all mixed up but at times one wishes for a bit more variety of tempo and subtlety of mood. Also there is little sense of people being trapped in this light and airy staging, with Kate Matthewss wooden framing more playground than prison.
As Floriano, the excellent William Belchambers sometimes seems like a comic half-brother of David Tennants mad Prince in Hamlet, as he affects an antic disposition to conceal his true state of mind, while Kathryn Beaumonts feisty Erifila injects some real feeling into her sense of mens treacherous power, having fled from an arranged marriage. Alicia Grace Turell and Elizabeth Webster make amusing mistress and maid rivals, Jonathan Christie shows how the amorous feelings of Florianos friend tempt him to betrayal and Laurence Fullers ad-libbing simian doctor is a lunatic who has taken over the asylum.