Johannes Hjorth

Entering through a window, the Maniac dramatically tip-toes around the room, wrapped in a make-shift red balaclava and black sunglasses, his long overcoat sweeping the air as his suspenders dangle nonchalantly from his trousers. Confronted by Inspector Betozzo and his constable – black trousered, black blazered, crisp, white shirted members of the police force – they proceed to interrogate him regarding his latest impersonation (this time, as a £200 per session psychiatrist); the revelation that he is a regular at mental asylums comes as no surprise.

Yet the force in Atri Banerjee’s adaptation of Dario Fo’s Nobel prize winning play centres upon which of the characters should really be sectioned under the Mental Health Act, pushing the audience to question whether the Maniac’s penchant for method acting and the ‘theatre of life’ is insane, or whether the lies, the cover-ups, the shameless bow to authority that trickles down through the police and our justice systems, are those in need of a straitjacket.

Banerjee creates such an energy in his characters, in making his audience distrust the everyday – the mundane office with the signature potted plant and the files strewn over the table, the monochrome suited police officers, the open window – that it causes the set to become all at once a crime scene, an interrogation room, and a psychiatric ward. You almost forget that the judge interrogating the inspectors regarding the death of the anarchist is the Maniac, and you almost forget that the ones being interviewed are the law enforcers in our society.

Of course, Sam Knight’s performance is dazzling; he plays the quick-witted, vivacious Maniac to perfection, switching between impersonations with ease and upmost comedic effect (his musing over how a judge should walk, alongside his mutation into Captain Mark Weeny, an eye-patch wearing Scotsman, are particular highlights). Yet acting as buffers to this are Inspector Pissani (Léa de Garnier des Garets) and the Superintendent (David Matthews), both injecting their characters with a deranged nervousness as their surface is cracked through to their guilt. Jack Thomas is given a lot more grit as Betozzo, yet he marks the line between his character being a hot-headed, self-righteous inspector and the recipient of punches and slapstick humour well. Rebecca Thomas, as well, is full of pomp and strut as the high heeled, voice recorder wielding journalist who throws a spanner in the works, but particular mention has to go to Benedetta Maisano, the narcoleptic constable whose one-liners and interjections are comedic brilliance.

 A playful, witty production that does not limp or play down the severity of its political and social issues, but instead, reminds you throughout your laughter, throughout the scene in which the Maniac convinces the inspectors to sing ‘Where is the love?’ (a dubious decision that doesn’t necessarily work through its extreme absurdity), throughout the suspenseful, cliff-hanging conclusion, that appearance is not reality, and madness may not be madness at all.