In Lunatic, currently enjoying a very short season at Theatre N16, a lot more than the fly gets swallowed. Whit Hertford, artistic director of his own production company, Riot Act, and an associate director at Theatre N16, is both writer and director of this play. It is styled as nü-gothic theatre.
Hertford’s background of extensive acting, writing and directing credits has produced a play that has chillingly awful moments amidst some dross. The through line of the narrative is very interesting if sometimes lost in a plethora of lunacy.
The audience is never quite sure where it may end. The script includes allusions to the poem quoted above but we never see the cat, although it is mentioned as a possibility. There is a love interest that is thwarted and the lovers come to a violent end…but at whose hand?
Amidst this sea of uncertainty is a clever device. The doctor and the patient appear to be changing their respective places. It’s this story line that bears further development and attention. In the final scenes, the over-abundance of subplots ravel the narrative into chaos. If that was the writer’s intent then mission accomplished. However, it does leave the audience in a disturbed and somewhat unsatisfied state.
Unusually for Theatre N16, but interestingly, this play is performed in the larger Globe Space of the establishment. The space itself is gothic in ambience and the set, designed by Ben Jacobs, looks suitably institutionalized for a mental hospital.
However it is laid out with the patient’s room downstage of the doctor’s office. Whilst this works well in a dramatic sense, it means that a lot of the action that happens on a mattress on the floor gets lost in a sea of heads.
The staging also forces a lot of the dialogue to be spoken either upstage or at best side on to the audience. This, together with a lack of clarity of diction and volume, means that a lot of dialogue was inaudible.
Justin Stahley plays Dr John Seward, a sophisticated young doctor with too many patients but ambition enough to mount a research project on one: Mr Renfield.
Dr Seward was in love with a girl who marries his best friend and his drunkenreaction sees him placed in an awkwardly compromising position with Renfield.
Stahley handles his character well and is very comfortable in this genre. The audience is drawn to his character and is engaged with his situation.
Chris Spyrides plays the psychopathic Renfield with chilling commitment. Renfield eats flies, spiders and birds in his quest to please his god to whom blood is the source of life. Renfield has regular conversations with this god and it is the faint echo of this with the good doctor that is menacing.
Spyrides convinces both in his moments of lucidity and lunacy. There is much to relate to in this mercurial character as skillfully portrayed by Spyrides.
The final character comes late into the play and is one of those extraneous sidelines that blur rather than advance the storyline. She is the sister of the now dead erstwhile love of Dr Seward who, for some unspecified reason, wants to meet the lunatic.
Sorcha Bannon appears as lost in the role as the audience is to the justification for the character being there at all. Unfortunately neither the character nor the dialogue is strong enough to reach the audience.
Special effects in lighting and sound add to the horror and a wonderful moment of blood soaked nudity in the semi-darkness of the final moments add to the thrill. If only the staging would have allowed the action to be seen by the whole audience and not just the front row.
Lunatic is an example where the whole does not equal the sum of all its parts. With much to commend itself to lovers of the genre, this gothic horror has not yet reached its full potential.