Mad House
Venue: Ambassador's Theatre, London 
Cast: David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Akiya Henry, Hanako Footman, Sinead Matthews, Charlie Oscar and Stephen Wight 

In rural Pennsylvania, Michael (David Harbour) has returned to his childhood home to look after his dying father, Daniel (Bill Pullman). His siblings soon arrive, determined to work out how much money Dad actually has left and how they're getting their hands on it.

Now playing for a strictly limited season at the Ambassador's Theatre. 

If you've been following my reviews for a while, you'll know I'm very much a musical theatre lover, and besides Shakespeare, I don't very often venture into plays. But with such a stellar cast, featuring two of my favourite actors - seeing Mad House was a no-brainer for me.

The story itself is very much an exploration of death, and the ways in which a family deals with it. Mad House highlights the complexity of dealing with the loss of a loved one, and everything that comes with it. The good, the bad and the ugly. Michael (Harbour) has been a full time carer for his dad, Daniel (Pullman), for 11 months, with no help from the rest of his family. He is slowly dying of emphysema. As his father reaches his last days, siblings start to reappear and the already strained family dynamics are put to the test.

photo by: Marc Brenner

In the meantime, a hospice nurse, Lillian (Henry) has come to care part-time for Michael's father, and offer him some respite. Like every family, as you unravel each layer, the situation becomes more complex and secrets are revealed. This play is an unashamed look at loss, and how it can affect everyone in different ways. Whether it's greed, guilt, anger, spite - all these themes are explored. I almost felt like each sibling was an enhanced version of one of these emotions, and how a looming death can cause ripples within the family.

While the play is fresh and meaty, the most exciting part of this production is it's outstanding cast. Bill Pullman plays the dying father so incredibly well. While carrying around an oxygen tank for 95% of the show, to wheezing his lines and gasping for breath; Pullman is transformed into a frail, sick man. With the mouth of a sailor. All he wants is a whiskey, a cigarette...and a hooker. You can't deny a dying man his wishes, right?

David Harbour's character, Michael, recently spent some time in a "mad house" (rehab) to recover from ongoing mental health issues, and isn't long released before he's caring full time for his father. Harbour plays the caring, over sensitive role perfectly, and it's striking how vulnerable he seems throughout the show, considering his towering height. He and his father have a love/hate relationship, the reasons to which are slowly fed to us throughout act two; building until it reaches a crescendo

photo by: Marc Brenner

Another mention must go to Akiya Henry who plays Daniel's hospice nurse, Lillian. She's sharp, quick-witted, and above all, patient. She not only offers respite to Michael as a carer, but also reminds him that he's not alone in this crazy world. She's such a profound character, and is Michael's constant throughout the play.

It's worth mentioning that if you're easily offended, this is not the play for you. While you may have dabbled in dark comedy before, I would go as far as to say this piece is pitch black. It doesn't hold back on the harshness of death, and the cruelty in family dynamics. It's crass, it's hilarious. One minute you'll be crying with laughter, and the next you'll be moved to tears.

The play is just over two hours, and it simply still doesn't feel long enough. It's compelling, funny, but above all, real. The realness of this piece is what kicks you in the gut, and leaves you reeling for days after. If you get the chance to see Mad House - don't hesitate. I've seen plenty of mixed reviews, but I, for one, adored the show. And will be back very soon!

photo by: Marc Brenner

You can buy tickets to Mad House at Ambassador's Theatre, here.

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