Nikolai Gogol’s wildly absurd masterpiece, Diary of a Madman, adapted for the stage by David Holman, is brought to life in Canberra from the 2nd of June through the 16th of June with a celebrated cast and award-winning creative team from The Street. Together, the stage is set in Street Two for audiences to experience Poprishchin’s slide into chaos, capturing the condition of Gogol’s poor hero balancing on a giant staircase, scored dogs’ voices surrounded by an epic soundscape and precision lighting. Direction by Caroline Stacey with Designers Imogen Keen (Set and Costumes), Niklas Pajanti (Lighting) and Seth Edwards-Ellis (Sound).
Poprishchin is a low-ranking public servant, struggling to make his mark in the bureaucratic world, who yearns to be noticed by the beautiful daughter of a senior administrator. Battling snobbery, complacency, and the stupidity of officialdom, he chronicles his daily life from the unsavoury habits of his superiors to a suspicion that dogs can talk. One day he makes an amazing discovery – The King of Spain has died without an heir – and suddenly destiny and greatness call.
Gogol’s The Diary of a Madman is a funny and brutal exploration of one man’s struggle to keep a grip on reality. Where, madness might mean a failure to find your proper place in the world, or the compulsion to occupy a place to which you’re not entitled. Diary of a Madman exposes one man’s longing to find such a place for himself, a place where he is visible, where he matters, and above all, belongs. Gogol’s dark comedy takes us into a fantastical world filled with laughter and rage, the tragic and rapturous, and one man’s quest for individuality in a seemingly indifferent, urban city.
Set in St Petersburg in the time of the Tsar this work sits at the intersection of social satire and psychological portrait and is as relevant today as when first written. Gogol’s short story has long been recognised as a powerful dissection of mental disintegration. Written in 1834, Diary of a Madman represents the kind of cutting edge writing that placed Gogol in the forefront of Russian writers, with great influence on the generation that came after him.
Nikolai Gogol was born in 1809 in the Cossack village of Sorochyntsi, in the Poltava Governorate of Ukraine, then part of tsarist Russia. He lived in Ukraine until he was 19, when he moved to St Petersburg, the capital of the empire. Later he spent many years abroad in Germany, Switzerland and France, and finally settled in Italy. His books were some of the first to bring Russian literature to attention in Europe, being published in French and German before his death in 1852. He was buried in Moscow. “The Diary of a Madman” was the only work of fiction that Gogol wrote in the first person. In 1835, when this story was published, Gogol seemed very far from being the man who, just before he died, refused to eat, burned his manuscripts, and claimed the Devil made him do it. He was a young, sane, and hopeful writer from Ukraine who had just published a few stories, and his most famous story “The Nose” and his satirical play “The Government Inspector” were still in the works.