Madhouse review: PJ Gallagher’s gently comic coming-of-age story

Dublin Fringe Festival: Who are we to stigmatise mental disorder, the comedian asks

Madhouse: PJ Gallagher’s mother cared for several men with schizophrenia. Photograph: Rory Murphy

Madhouse: PJ Gallagher’s mother cared for several men with schizophrenia. Photograph: Rory Murphy

 

MADHOUSE

Abbey Theatre, Peacock stage
★★★★
You don’t have to be schizophrenic to live in Bobby’s house, but it helps. Based on the childhood reminiscences of the comedian PJ Gallagher, whose mother cared for several affected men in their sprawling Clontarf home before there was “such a thing as mental health”, Una McKevitt and Gallagher’s gently comic coming-of-age story is given the disorienting qualities of a strange hallucination.

“It’s mad the shit you get used to,” Barry Kinsella’s amiable Bobby says with a shrug, and under Cathal Cleary’s direction that is the audience’s experience, too, adjusting to a space more industrial than homely and soon barely wondering why Bobby is counting wads of money, why his mother, the whirring Katherine Lynch, hauls black bags and gas canisters, or why an agile gorilla is busy prowling the stage. Eventually, anything can feel normal. That’s why the details of schizophrenia and care eventually fade into the background, against stories of Bobby’s oversensitive father, old before his time, his sexual awakenings and the value of work.

Most eccentricities become invisible to us, the play suggests with stealth and affection, so who are we to stigmatise mental disorder? With some care, compassion and good humour, you may be able to live with it.

Runs until Saturday, September 22nd

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