Poprishchin, a low-ranking civil servant in his forties, is trying hard to get a life when he stumbles upon the idea that he could be the next king of Spain. As Poprishchin loses his grip on reality and falls into a chaotic fantasy world, he writes a dramatic diary in which dogs compose love letters, and royal gowns are made of paper. Considered among
Russian writer Gogol’s best works, Diary of a Madman is turned into a one-man show by Welsh actor Robert Bowman. Bowman won the Welsh Theatre Critics Best Actor in an English Language Production Award in 2014 for his portrayal of Poprishchin, and critics have pointed out his nuanced style that draws out the dark comedy and makes the 1835 work relevant to the present day.
Brought to India by Diary of a Madman has been brought to India by QTP Entertainment and Living Pictures, Diary of a Madman has been staged in Mumbai and Bangalore and will be presented in Delhi on December 1 and 2. Excerpts from an interview with Bowman:
The madman and I
I have been performing the piece for over six years, usually re-visiting it once a year. The best thing I can do in preparation for the show is to relax. If I think about the roller-coaster ride Poprishchin goes on, I would exhaust myself before the show has even begun. Engaging the audience I hope the audience engages with the story and the piece. Bertolt Brecht talked about a distancing in theatre and I think this was so audiences didn’t ‘wallow’ in their emotions of empathy.
He felt that it didn’t help the audience ‘think’ about the play they had just seen and, if they weren’t thinking, they might not take any action. I agree with this, but, for me, the big aim is to engage the audiences. If we do that then we can get them thinking about the play. Workings of the Mind As part of an award I received from the Arts Council of
Wales in 2016, I am looking at neuroscience, biology and physiology, to find out what they have to say about how we learn, and then finding ways we can bring that information into the classrooms through theatre games, theatre practice and magic. This is still in the research stage, but we are starting to create exercises to see what we can develop and then practise those with children.
It is a way of getting knowledge into mainstream education in a fun and stimulating way. Playing other people I have no family background in the arts but a friend of mine used to entertain our families by doing sketches from the age of about nine or ten. He now works as an actor and voice-over artist in Los Angeles. As a child, I was into all sports. I played sports into high school. After a while, it started to fall off for me and I was doing drama club. One day, I was wondering what I was going to do after high school, and decided that I was going to train and work as an actor.
Travels Through India Alongside Diary of a Madman, we are exploring Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens with Indian actors and hope to eventually, have Welsh and Indian actors working together on it. I am fascinated by the folk traditions in India. The last time I was in India was 20 years ago with the Royal Shakespeare Company. We toured with A Comedy of Errors to five cities. That was my first taste of audiences in India and they picked the textual humour of Shakespeare better than the audiences in Britain. Coming up
My partner Elen Bowman, is writing a musical piece of theatre in Welsh, linking her aunties from Wales with Iraq, and I am devising a new piece on weight loss called Say When, research of which has been funded by Arts Council Wales.